We are closing in on harvest time in northern Arizona, and I am expecting to pick string beans, both yellow and green, by this weekend — the first of the season! I’m planning on boiling them and then mixing them with butter, salt and pepper. Nothing fancy, but exactly the way my mother and grandmother cooked them. I’ve eaten them all sorts of other ways, and they are good, but no other preparation compares.

Which reminds me of a dinner my sister and I had at Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, Utah. I don’t remember what else we ordered, but the vegetables of the day were fresh and included squash, beans, corn and zucchini, perfectly cooked. The women sitting next to us asked the server how the vegetables were prepared, noting that they were delicious.

The server responded with, “We just cook them with butter, and salt and pepper.”

My sister and I chuckled. Yes, indeed.

I go out to my garden every day if I’m in town. I examine everything, pull weeds, pick bugs off, water if necessary and generally gaze with pride at my vegetables. Except for my tomatoes. My other plantings look great, and I’ve been harvesting sweet peppers for a bit. The carrots look good, and so do the cucumbers. All will be ready for picking soon. Early in the season, the lettuce was good. I’ve grown cabbages and beets with success, too, but not tomatoes.

We all know how hard it is to grow tomatoes in Flagstaff, and my experience is no exception. I’ve tried all sorts of varieties, and they are just never that good, or that prolific. The foliage may be gorgeous, but that’s it. I’ve tried different soil amendments, tried using pots, but no luck.

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By the time the fruit begins to set, it’s already late in the season. Too bad we don’t like pickled green tomatoes. Or that I can’t figure out how to grow them. But I can’t give up. Nothing compares to fresh garden-grown tomatoes — except for fresh beans.

Picking beans is like discovering gold. Hidden beneath the broad leaves are the most delicious vegetable you’ll ever eat, sweet and nutty in flavor — and until you begin to really look, you have no idea how many you’ll find. I probably grow mine too close together in a raised bed, so by the time harvesting comes around, I have a sea of kelly-green leaves to part. Once through is never enough — you always miss some the first time. I check every day to see how they are doing.

Harvest time always brings back memories of the farm. I remember those summers, running around barefoot, no air-conditioning. Slamming into the kitchen through the screen door to see mounds of string beans and tomatoes in bowls on the countertops. We ate beans almost every day. Sometimes we just had vegetables for dinner — sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, corn on the cob, and string beans with butter, salt and pepper. Maybe some carrots and peppers too. Homemade bread slathered with butter. Blackberry pie for dessert.

Sometimes I sit out on our back porch, looking at my garden, and I remember how it used to be. And sometimes my husband and I just have vegetables for dinner.

Lynne Nemeth, executive director of The Arboretum at Flagstaff, is the editor of Gardening Etcetera. To reach her with articles or ideas, please email Lynne.Nemeth@thearb.org.


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