Overlapping Ecosystems

Karla and I talk a lot in our Homestead Happiness chats, about the garden as an ecosystem. Nothing exists in this world that is not interwoven with everything else. And nothing brings this to our attention with as much regularity as the garden. When we engage with the garden, we are not just interested in the kale, but but by necessity we have to get curious about the butterflies too, and the eggs they may or not be laying, and on which plants. We have to be curious about the birds, and what they are eating, curious about the health of the soil and the flow of water through the soil. The one thing connects us to everything else. It becomes a lens, through which we are invited to consider the angle of the sun, or the way trees cast shadows in different places, depending on the time of year. The way wind moves through a valley, the way temperature flows like water, the way light ricochets off of surfaces. In order to have a more complete understanding of what is happening to the cole crops, we have to think about the other forces and beings that share the environment with us. This is a practice that will never go stale, because the world is always changing around us. Patterns swirl and form and dissolve in our minds; what is the connection between grasshoppers and the the temperature? Are there more quail than last year? What else are they eating? Humans love to look for patterns; it comforts us to imagine that life is predictable in some way. A sense that we fit into the design, though sometimes the larger pattern remains invisible to us. There is always more to learn, or simply to notice, which, for some, is almost a kind of prayer. Finding a connection between ourselves and the garden, the garden and the natural world, blurs and shades the intersections between all of us into infinite nuance. A pattern of relations, a cellular kinship, that extends into the very beginnings of life on earth, if you care to look that far back.

So everything ties to everything else, and life is going on around all of us all the time. The hidden life in the soil, the hunger of living things to continue, the leaves that are carried into the kitchen, the steaming compost that absorbs and metabolizes the scraps. I was struck by two things about this week's featured recipe, for a Fermented Pumpkin syrup. One, how the lens of observation brought close to the ginger bug would show such a teeming, microscopic roil of lives. And two, how the recipe makes no mention of the spiced squash pulp that is strained from the syrup after cooking. The kitchen, after all, is an ecosystem too.

So it is left to your imagination, then, to consider what might happen if you make this excellent recipe, and are left, after straining, with the steaming, sweetened, spiced squash. The tongue twists to say the phrase, but the brain turns cartwheels, too, or sets cogs to turning. Wheels spin, cycles turn. What a delicious problem to consider. Toss it into a sauté at the end, to glaze savory vegetables without burning? Stirred into a curry? Added to caramelized onions? Shaken with Brussels Sprouts? Or sweeter, mixed into pancake better, or blended into a pound cake? Possibilities abound. The compost pile, as worthy as it is, will have to wait to get squash scraps some other way. These are destined for other uses.

Cooking with leftovers is an important practice in the kitchen ecosystem. Sure, you can reheat eggplant parmesan without too much extra work, if there's enough to go around. But if there isn't enough to feed the whole family, the leftovers become another ingredient. Stuff them in peppers, wrap them in tortillas, sprinkle them with other spices to become something new. Leftovers offer themselves up to the imagination, asking us to look at familiar dishes from unexpected angles, to find new ways of experiencing them. This creativity makes us better cooks, and may lead to discoveries that we might not otherwise have encountered. This attention is a kind of respect that we can pay to the ingredients, to the labor and resources that it took to get them on our plates. Seen in this light, it becomes easier to appreciate even the ordinary kitchen staples as the minor miracles they are. And we see them too, as part of the ongoing cycles of renewal and regeneration, over and over, becoming something new, but always a part of the larger whole.

So we hope you enjoy this recipe. It's a good one, spicy from ginger, warm with cinnamon, sparkling, probiotic; there's a lot to love. And whatever you choose to do with the leftovers, we hope that you find a comfort in using them to the utmost utility and flavor, bringing the cycles full circle, over and over; overlapping, integrating, delicious.

By Jessica Tunis