Another week of picking up the share at Appleton Farms. You’ve heard me discuss the sometimes sacred and spiritual nature of these visits to the CSA. Other times it’s just a chore to cross off your to-do list.
Depends on whether you go out into the fields to pick, because most of the magic happens during the intersection of human action, plant eccentricities, and whatever critters might be keeping you company out there (birds, butterflies, bees, beetles, mosquitoes, and mice and other scurrying rodents, to name a few).
Some weeks, the skies are slung low with clouds or lightning tears across the sky, and we don’t go into the fields to pick. Other days, it’s so hot and dusty, you wonder if you’re sane to consider going out among the low rows of crops, to bend and stoop, snip and pluck, filling pint containers or bags with your harvest of flowers, herbs and (some weeks) vegetables.
This week, we gathered herbs and flowers. Along the way, we learned a lesson about persistence.
Specifically, we walked among the rows, hunting for cilantro. Its familiar name was missing among the stakes labeled by such savory titles as mint, oregano, parsley, thyme, dill and basil. The CSA uses signage to make it clear where each crop is grown, row by row, and where to pick. Yet we couldn’t find it. We quartered the field, back and forth, systematic, but undirected. No luck. No cilantro stakes.
Of course, we might have tried looking for it under other names. Did you know it’s also called coriander, Chinese parsley or dhania? (In our culture, when we speak of cilantro, we often mean the fresh green leaves. Its seeds are identified as the coriander.) It grows commonly in regions from Europe and northern Africa to parts of Asia, and now in North America; it’s a common ingredient in many international cuisines. Possibly the most widely used herb in the world. As eloquently stated by a writer for culinate.com, “For just about anyone who grew up in the diverse culinary traditions of Latin America, the Caribbean, Portugal, northern Africa, the Middle East, the South Asian subcontinent, and most of Asia, cilantro tastes like home.” The same lacey green fronds, regardless of label, add a biting zest to all sorts of dishes.
Another confession. I hunted for cilantro, though I have no intention of eating it. I’m a member of the population that doesn’t like its flavor. Yes, we come in two groups: like or dislike. You can’t be in-between, when it comes to a preference or distaste for cilantro.
In fact, the plant’s flavor is actually a polarizing debate among “foodies.” It’s loved or hated, nothing less. This topic has been covered by publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Smithsonian Magazine, and inspired movements such as ihatecilantro.com. For those who love and eat it, because of its bright note of flavor in any dish, it’s hard to imagine why you’d turn it away. Cilantro-haters are often accused of being picky eaters. Yet there’s some evidence that the aversion to cilantro’s flavor is a genetic mutation; some tastebuds are just destined to revolt against it, because it transforms into a different chemical experience in measurable (but minority) percentages in any population. Cilantro-dislikers describe it as tasting like soap or hairspray, but to me it has the tang of aluminum. Ick. And I’m in good company. Per the same articles cited above, Julia Child felt the same way; she disliked both cilantro and arugula.
So I was walking through the field, hunting for an herb I don’t even enjoy, because my friend wanted some for her cooking plans. The whole point of the day seemed to become the triumph of finding a small bouquet of cilantro.
Finally, instead of giving up and returning wearily to the car after multiple hikes in and out of the field, we asked a farmhand. At first, she said there wasn’t any.
Then she winced sympathetically. “I know frustrating, isn’t it? We’re just getting tomatoes in, and we’ve had cilantro all season, and just when you want both, we’re running low. We planted another crop, so we hope there’s some later on this month.” Finally she added, “Well, we took down the cilantro sign, because it’s mostly all picked, and what’s left is hard to find because of the weeds. But if you walk past the dill, halfway down the row, and push aside enough weeds, you might find some.”
Now mind you, I have made a case for weeds. In my “garden” (dry, desert-like side yard), there are more weeds than healthy domesticated species. Spiky, tall, persistent and oddly lovely. Striking from my point of view, anyway. (You are welcome to your own opinion, of course.)
We turned right at the small feathery fronds of dill (also almost all picked and gone, also unlabeled, but visible if you knew where to look). Hiked beyond the knee-high growth of grass blades and vibrant weeds. Paused. Pushed aside leafy wild plants, seeking domestic satisfaction. Found the pungent leaves and stems of the cilantro. Worked our way down the row, reaching among the growth of unwanted plants, for the ones we did seek. Filled a small bag with cilantro, to use in cooking
The lesson? For me, it was the promise of finding what you want, if you don’t give up. If you look enough. If you go back once, twice and thrice. If you ask for directions. If you persist past the overlooked, overgrown appearance of the row. If you hunt among the weeds. You just might discover what you’re seeking.
And the worst case scenario, after time spent hunting among weeds and wildflowers? Even if you don’t find cilantro, you’ve gained the benefit of time spent in the sun and elements. Along the way, you’ve let go of the other stressful parts of life for a little while. It’s as good as yoga, as far as I am concerned, being out in the fields, picking part of your share.
This time, we harvested sunflowers and cilantro to be used in my friend’s favorite recipe for Thai vegetable spring rolls. And as I do every year, I’ll try a bite, always hopeful that I’ve somehow been converted to a cilantro-lover. But that’s another adventure … Today was just the journey of gathering the leftover cilantro from its exile out in the field, its row unlabeled, overgrown by weeds.