Radishes are a utility as far as I’m concerned. Radishes grow wicked fast. The general idea is that you plant radishes with carrots for two reasons. First of all, they are a great tool to shade carrots before the carrots are tall enough to handle the sun. Secondly, they peek up fast, so you remember where you planted the carrots. Carrots will make you wait for WEEKS before making an appearance.
This fall, I planted onions and carrots in a bed recently vacated by potatoes. And with them, I planted some Watermelon Radishes. They are an heirloom variety and are larger than a “regular” radish (the most regular-of-regular is called “Cherry Belle”), and are milder than a Cherry Belle. Additionally, let’s not forget that it’s important to grow heirloom varieties – important to keep a greater variety of foods available. It’s better for pest control, better for the soil, better for the planet. Monoculture will be the ruination of us, and so it’s important to keep the diversity alive in what we eat and grow.
I had the Watermelon Radish packet in my seed bin, but I didn’t have good luck the last time I planted them. I got a few, but they were small and punky and inedible. I was pretty sure that they would fail like the last time, but hey, they would get tall enough to shade the carrots (job #1), and they would mark the rows of carrots (job #2). Done and done.
Silly me. I watered the bed enough. I mean – really enough. I mean, look at this bed! It’s positively flourishing! So, the Watermelon Radishes, which are supposed to be “larger than a cherry belle” surprised me. Ever seen a radish that’s as big as a turnip? Me either. Until now.
And you know what? Not mild. Not milder than Cherry Belles. No. This bad boy was so peppery and hot I couldn’t eat it. If I can’t eat it raw, it isn’t going in a salad. And Todd certainly isn’t going to eat them. He can’t have spice anymore.
I planted a lot of them, so I will have pounds and pounds of this practically inedible food. What to do? What to do? I did a bit of research and learned that there are people who actually cook radishes. After thinking about it – what’s so strange about that? They are a root crop: Carrots, turnips, parsnips – all delicious. And you can pretty much cook them all the same way. So I cut and steamed them until soft, threw in some butter, and put them on a plate. Todd and I were both surprised at the result. The texture was very similar to an artichoke heart. The flavor is sort of a cross between artichoke and turnip and potato. Mild, interesting, savory. But the whole time I was eating it, I was thinking about mashing them. So that’s what I did the second time around. I cut and steamed them just like the first time, but then mashed them with butter, milk and parmesan cheddar cheese. As they were steaming, Todd walked into the kitchen and said “Smells like you are cooking cauliflower.” He was right. Sort of pungent. The radish has the most beautiful pink interior (uhm… like a “watermelon” – get it?). So, the mashed radish was pink, which is kinda weird as savory foods go. I had a few bites, Todd had a few bites. Meh. Just barely okay.
In the meantime, after washing and trimming them I had all of these beautiful greens. I have a juicer, and I like the idea of juicing – so I took it upon myself to see if that was do-able. I juiced all the radish greens – oh, what a beautiful color. I poured the juice into a glass and took a whiff.
Ever been in an outhouse?
I tried to drink it out of a straw instead, thinking that would be better.
Ever tried to drink something while in an outhouse?
As all of this ridiculousness was occurring, I started to question why I was so determined to do anything with this vegetable. And then I started to think about “should.”
We should ourselves all the time, don’t we? I know I do.
I should lose weight.
I should volunteer more.
I should save money.
I should work harder so I can get promoted.
I should plant heirloom varieties.
To me, the word “should” is a pernicious little code word that really means “The way I am doing it now is wrong”. It leaves a whole big pile of judgment just hanging out there for me to interpret how I will.
I should lose weight. (Because I’m fat)
I should volunteer more. (Because I’m a selfish bitch)
I should save money. (Because spending is like gluttony)
I should work harder so I can get promoted. (Because if I don’t get promoted, I’m a loser)
I should plant heirloom varieties. (Because if I don’t, I’m a fake)
I sometimes look at my former colleagues – and as we’ve moved in separate directions, I see how many have been promoted, what great titles they have, how successful they are, and I “should” myself. I should have stayed longer. I should have worked harder. I should have stuck with this – or that – company. But the truth is I don’t want to work 60 hours a week. I don’t want to eat-breathe-sleep-dream-live my work. I want balance. I want a life. I want to hang out in my garden. I want to hang out with Todd. I want be able to sneak off to New York City with the girls for a weekend, work-be-damned.
But there is a price for that.
The price is that I don’t get the big title, the big promotion, the big office. I have a tiny house, with a little mortgage. I drive a 10 year old car. I buy jeans at Goodwill. And I have a garden that literally stops people in their tracks. Does my life make some people jealous? Might other people look at my life and say to themselves “I should get off the corporate ladder and do what makes me really and truly happy”?
So, where does this leave the Watermelon Radish? I obeyed the “should”. I planted heirloom radishes. Twice. I let them grow and prosper. I tried cooking them two ways. I tried juicing the greens. I tried them in salads. I tried them sliced.
And now, I am done “shoulding” myself about heirloom vegetables. Let someone else, who absolutely frikken loves Watermelon Radishes grow them to their heart’s content. I grow heirloom tomatoes, potatoes, beans, squash, and strawberries, etc. I’m on the lookout for heirlooms whenever I have the chance. I have plenty to keep me busy. I have plenty of new foods to try. There is nothing about this one single annoying, stinky vegetable that compels me to continue giving them my time or attention. Growing a boring and conventional cherry belle doesn’t make me a lesser person. And neither does my non-meteoric career.
I’m going back to Cherry Belle. In my beautiful garden. The one that doesn’t look a bit like the corner office.