Yesterday I went out to my yard (honesty requires that I not call it a garden) and found a forest of lovage. It was late in the afternoon, and I had no set plans for dinner yet.
If you’ve never had the pleasure, lovage is a wonderful herb to have in your garden, er, yard. For one thing, you can’t buy it at the store, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it at the farmers market. And none of my friends have any that I can borrow.
Lovage tastes much like celery. The stalks of lovage plants are hollow—perfect straws for Bloody Marys (Mothers Day is around the corner, hint hint). Apparently, some people cook the stalks as a vegetable—I’ll have to try that soon. Once there are tomatoes, while everyone else layers theirs with basil, I’ll be strewing chopped lovage over mine. Along with a good pinch of salt and some pepper.
Until the tomatoes come to the market (and my yard) I’ll be eating lovage with eggs, tucked in my cheese sandwiches, and, best of all, with new potatoes.
Happily, yesterday I did have a bag of new potatoes I’d bought the day before at the market. Clearly they were going to have to meet my lovage.
New potatoes always make me think of my year on a farm at the northern tip of the Danish peninsula, Jutland. I suppose, after a childhood in California—with its abundance of seasonal produce available throughout the year—it wasn’t surprising that eating seasonally would be so noticeable on a farm as far north as Sitka, Alaska.
View My farm in Denmark in a larger map
But at the farm I lived on we did just that. We bought few groceries, mainly staples like flour and sugar (and the mysterious sauce used to flavor the nightly gravy served over the potatoes). Milk and thick cream came from the milking barn across the courtyard; the butter was brought to us from the co-operative dairy, when they came daily for milk. Meat was our own; chicken was bought from neighboring farms. My mother made vats of leverpostej (liver paste) and thick rullepølse, a rolled sausage we took in our lunches. In the winter we ate kale. And every day we had potatoes.
Northern Jutland (Vendsyssel) Landscape
I arrived in July, when the potatoes were freshly dug, their peels barely adhering. I was put to work almost immediately, the best way to make an exchange student feel like part of the family.
“Du kan skrælle kartofler,” my new mother told me (I quickly learned she was telling me to peel the potatoes). That first time I looked in vain for the familiar swivel potato peeler. My host sister handed me a small paring knife.
Like so often those first months, I felt awkward. I gripped the knife for dear life, trying to scrape the peel off without dropping the potato. By the time I had a potato properly peeled, my host sister had peeled four. By the second day (we ate potatoes daily), my fingers were starting to get calloused.
And it was a good thing. As the summer passed, the new potatoes gave way to stored potatoes, with much thicker peels. I needed calluses and experience to peel those potatoes.
Outside the back door stood a shed, taken up completely by a pile of potatoes. Throughout the fall my job was to fetch the potatoes for dinner, and to peel them. Before I knew it, I could peel them just as fast as my sisters.
By the late winter, the mountain had dwindled to a small mound of potatoes. The remaining potatoes were the ones I had been rejecting all year. Picking them for dinner was an unpleasant task. Often I’d reach in for a few and my fingers would go through a rotten one. But just as my hands had become calloused, I had also gotten used to the less desirable farm tasks.
Just before it was time to return home to my family in California, the new potatoes were once again dug up. Early summer suppers on a Danish farm are to be savored: tiny new potatoes with nothing more than butter; rhubarb soups, and finally strawberries served in cold soups, or, best of all, in soup plates with a pitcher of cream passed around.
By the time the new potatoes came back to our table, I had learned new ways to see and think about things. Like my hands, I’d toughened up.
My own daughter is finishing her year as an exchange student right now, and will be coming home in just 7 weeks (I’m sure she doesn’t want to be reminded of this!). I’m excited to see her again, to find out what the year has given her. I wonder what calluses she’s developed.
And about last night’s dinner. It was my favorite kind, pulled together from what was on-hand, every part delicious. After having my first gin and tonic of the year, I quickly boiled the potatoes, and tossed them with nothing more than butter and chopped lovage. Under my lovage forest I found some thyme, so I made omelets with about a tablespoon of parmesan and a little fresh thyme. After a salad with shallot vinaigrette, we had tea and chocolate chip cookies (from Kimberley Boyce’s new book, Good to the Grain—more on that soon!).
It was the kind of evening that reminds me how lucky we all are.