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Our potagere

August 24, 2009
Our mustard keeps company with clover, carrots, and an adventitious petunia planted by a helpful squirrel.

Our mustard keeps company with clover, carrots, and an adventitious petunia planted by a helpful squirrel.

A bulwark of beans dominates the terrace potagere.

A bulwark of beans dominates the terrace potagere.

If my husband and I could live anywhere and do anything, we would probably raise mustard. We would raise mustard somewhere, perhaps central France, or maybe central Washington, and I would stirfry the leaves, and pulverize the seeds into world-class tangy golden sauce. I would grind the seeds in my coffee grinder at first, and when our brand became famous and capital permitted, we would acquire something large and practical with which to grind our tons of seeds.

Ever since resourceful flight attendant Mlle. Moutardier took down insipid wannabe terrorist Richard Reid with a glass of cold water, we have celebrated moutardiers, or growers of mustard, as heroes. But even before the fame of Mlle. Moutardier, mustard constituted an essential food group at our table.

We grow a few mustard plants in our potagere, along with carrots, beets, green beans, and bok choy. I stirfry the mustard greens with the other vegetables, and we will harvest the seeds in the fall and make mustard. We aspire to produce a yield sufficient to dab on a canapé.

The spindly mustard plants are crowned with yellow flowers, and frankly look like weeds. It takes a field of mustard to build up the appearance of something intentionally grown.

It doesn’t really matter that we are not living self sufficiently off the produce of our land. The potagere, or kitchen garden, is an ageless tradition, and we think it’s an important heritage not to be given up. Mustard adds color and zest to our potagere and to life.

Perhaps not awfully surprisingly, Sir Walter Scott evidently overlooked mustard as a theme worthy of inclusion in a ballad. However, he did say, “Nothing is more the child of art than a garden.” Our potagere is not a visual feast of well-styled abandon in the way of a Scottish country garden; however, I think Sir Walter would have approved its yeomanly utility, its propensity to ignite dreams and imagination, and its provision of an experience common to all men since the beginning of time.

In no way meaning to impugn the art of the ballad, I record here what I promise will be my only attempt to imagine what a Scots balladeer might have sung of mustard:

Auld Saunders’s Potagere

Auld Saunders tookit his hoe and dragged it through the lang furrow,
The yeoman harrow’d every row o’ his croft before he set for hame.
His shouthers burn’d by sun did gie him little cause for woe,
For the sight to his een o’ knee high mustard warm’d his heart as a flame.

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