When Tim and I got married almost 10 years ago, my friend Paige offered to make our cake — a 3-tiered coconut cake with apricot filling. It was lovely, garnished with my mom’s vintage bride and groom cake topper. But getting to that perfect end was not easy for the baker — the apricot filling made for layers that wanted to slip and slide into something more Seuss than Martha.
The night before the wedding, Paige had a nightmare that the cake was trying to kill her. The cake, swollen to a larger-than-human scale, was lumbering down the long hallway of the house where we were staying — wielding a chef’s knife, with intent to harm.
I still laugh, hard, when I tell this story. It’s just classic, in so many ways — how our anxieties are anthropomorphized in our subconscious lives.
Late last week, I awoke in the middle of the night, in a state of panic: I had ordered a case of apples from the orchard at the farmer’s market. This had been an impulse decision — we were out of last fall’s jars of homemade applesauce, and I was so surprised to find a farmer with some seconds left in cold-storage, that I hastily ordered a bushel. (That’s about 40 pounds, if you’re like me and spent 38 years of life not knowing what a bushel was.)
When I awoke in a cold sweat, it wasn’t out of a dream that the apples had sprouted legs and were creeping up our stairway with my kitchen utensils as bludgeoning devices; it was simply out of a sub-conscious realization of what I was facing. I spent a day and a half last week dealing with that bushel of apples — a day and a half that I didn’t really have to spend. Canning is something that, in the end, I believe is worth it. But the process devours space and time at a point determined solely by the harvest. When the apples and tomatoes have reached their prime and begin a downward spiral of deterioration, you have no choice but eat or preserve them.
We have planned a very large (by our standards) garden this year, and it overwhelms me. Not just because I’m not very good at keeping green things alive — but because I know that what we hope it brings will mean a sh*tload of work. I remember reading the parts in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where Barbara Kingsolver talks of her home being invaded by zucchini (we aren’t planting any) and about cases of ripe tomatoes rotting because local farmers couldn’t sell them to the grocery store. Wasted produce keeps me awake at night, and I can’t help but fear I’m not up to the task of preserving the bounty.
Of course, there’s always the chance that there won’t be a bounty, which is the nightmare personalized to the sleeping life of my husband. He ordered the seeds, prepared the beds, and now obsessively watches the seed starts as they pop up out of their moist soil. He coddles them, taking their trays to different locations that might offer more warmth and better light as the sprouts begin to grow leaves. As we sleep in the same bed each night, the thoughts haunting our slumber are of opposite ends of the garden spectrum: he fears a poor harvest, I fear a bumper crop.
I’m willing to admit that mine is the more irrational nightmare (as usual). After all — there is no shortage of people in our neighborhood who would gladly take excess off our hands. But I went into this with an end-result in mind — perhaps, in retrospect, my plans bite off more than I can chew. I have visions of canning enough tomatoes to get us through winter. An ambitious goal, would you say?
I’ll say. Or, at least, my nocturnal self says — right about the time I awake in a cold sweat, having just escaped a giant, ripe tomato, bearing flesh-eating teeth, intent on having me for dinner.