Monday, July 21, 2008

Cantaloupe, Honey, and Zinnias

It was a simple sign … painted on a yellow background, “Honey for Sale.” Hmmm, we thought, sounds good, I think we’re out of honey. We’ll stop by after the Cantaloupe Festival.

So after our morning at the fest and purchases at the Oxford Farmer’s Market, we decided to stop for the honey. We turned into the driveway by the sign looking for a stand, another sign, or someone to ask about the honey. We weren’t sure if we were supposed to ring the house bell or wend our way to the hives …. But stopped when the driveway ended. We were just turning the car around when we noticed someone following behind us in a golf cart. We got out of the car and inquired about the honey.

“It’s in the garage,” he said, “Follow me.”

In the garage, Tom (bee keeper, home owner, gardener, new-friend) showed us the gallons of golden honey he had strained that morning. He was justifiably,proud of the dozens of bee hives he keeps and the honey he renders. We chatted with him about his garden, Oxford, honey and bee keeping, delighting in his friendliness and similar garden interests. After a while, his wife came out of the house and asked if we ever tasted ‘Spiced Cucumber Rings.” I told her that though I love cucumbers, they didn’t agree with me, but she thought I might be able to digest the cucumbers since they were cooked and not raw. And I am SO SO GLAD I did – they were INCREDIBLE!!! They reminded me of those red, spiced apples – cinnamon-tasting, and sweet and spicy – and I offered to buy a jar. We continued chatting, all the while just enjoying the sheer ‘neighborliness’ of spontaneous get to gether.

We talked about the Cantaloupe Festival, and Tom was telling us how much he loved the Ridgeway Cantaloupes. Well, one doesn’t have to even ask before we were sharing our dozen! Tom’s wife asked what I was going to do with all the melons, and I told her that I was going to make preserves.

“I’ve never heard of those in all the time I’ve been making preserves,” she said. So I told her about my love of wild foods and coming across a recipe years ago. After more discussion, she asked if I’d share the recipes --- and we exchanged phone numbers so I could give her proportions.

Then she shared that she had just put up dozens of jars of plum jam. And I was swooning!!! “Where did you get the plums?” I asked, “C is just CRAZY about plum jam,” I told her about my plum adventures when we lived in Durham and a neighbor shared his Damsons.

“My son has a tree,” she told me.

“If he ever comes across a seedling,” I begged, “Please tell him I’d love to buy one from him. Charles just loves those sweet/tart little plums!”

Well apparently, I didn’t have to ask either, and she generously offered a bag of plums that she didn’t have time to render into jam.

We chatted more and I offered to help Tom pick butter beans when they came in, explaining that with working out of town, how much I missed my own garden, since I wasn’t home enough to care for it, how C and I would sit on the porch after a hot day, a citronella candle light, us chatting, all the while shelling butter beans --- and Tom promised to share his figs and call me when the beans were ready. He showed me his multitude of hives and insisted I take home a bouquet of Zinnias from his garden – flowers, he planted, because his wife loved bouquets of flowers.

Touching .. all of it.

When we got home, I sent C back to Tom’s with a couple of jars of jam I had made, the recipe – the last jar of cantaloupe preserves I had on my shelf, and a notecard of Oxford haybales – knowing they’d appreciate a scene from our town.

But this hour – was the hightlight of our day.

We left Tom and Irene feeling jubilant with that wonderful ‘down home’ feeling that made us fall in love with Oxford and the way of life we aspire to live despite working far from home. It was the exchange of friendship, generous stories, food and friendship that we once shared with the farmers across the road from us before they passed on, that made our decision to remain in Oxford despite high gas costs, long, long work hours, a week away from those we love – worth every minute we can spend HERE – here in the home and town and people we love. Our hour with Tom and his wife reinforced the reason we do what we do – justified and renewed our commitment to continue doing the long commutes and long hours a bit longer … so that we can return again, weekend by weekend, to this place … this home, these friends.

And all because of that sweet, golden honey. I always knew it had magical powers.

We'r offf to VA to continue our studies of southern gardens .. be back in a few days ...


Anonymous said...

Beautiful story and beautiful zinnias. They are my favorite summer flower. I've never grown them so have to get them at the Farmer's Market. I love their vibrant colors. Your drawing is lovely, lovely, lovely! Thanks for sharing all of that with us and enjoy the trip to VA.

Carol C said...

Gorgeous zinnias! Looks almost like a botanical drawing!!--Carol C

Teri C said...

I just love zinnias (course, I haven't met a flower I didn't love :) and you did a beautiful job on these. Great story also.