Fatherhood: Lessons from the garden
There is something special about getting your hands dirty in the garden that makes you feel “earthy, grounded, and back-to-basics”. Some of my most significant life lessons have come from planting, flood irrigation watering from the historic Warm Springs flowing down the pioneer lava rock ditch in Washington, weeding, fertilizing and harvesting fruit and vegetables alongside my wonderful parents and siblings. (Bottling the abundant harvest is a whole different story for another day.) One of the life lessons that has stuck with me throughout my life is “hoeing to the end of the row”. Another life lesson is “what goes around comes around,” including enjoying a bountiful harvest of fresh home grown produce from working the earth.
Not long ago, we were getting our hands dirty at the ole homestead family garden and orchard and the sun felt so good on our faces as we went up and down the rows trimming grapevines to facilitate another bounteous harvest.
After trimming the grapevines and fruit trees the “pioneer way” to ensure a bounteous crop—a tip and skill which was passed along from my father and Uncle Jerald Turner and Herb Bentley—it was time to prepare the garden for planting. This included clearing the munificence of Jerusalem artichokes that spread like weeds, if left alone. The tall green stalks grow up each year with a splash of yellow when they flower in the fall. Growing mainly in the ditches, they require no care at all—except to keep them from taking over the garden, so we decided to dig them up and enjoy the yummy tubers for dinner.
From a small boy, our family had enjoyed Jerusalem artichokes, which has nothing to do with Jerusalem—and is not even an artichoke, looking more like ginger or a knobby potato. They are native to the Americas and were consumed by Native Americans before the Europeans arrived. They are actually part of the sunflower family, so some people call them sunroot, or sunchoke—but we now call them “fartichokes” because of what we recently learned they do to the human body when ingested in large doses.
They are very rare and can be eaten raw or cooked, and put in soup or mashed into an “artichoke-spud mash”. They have a texture and taste in between a nut and a potato. They have always been a welcome and unique addition to dinner. It takes quite an effort for the little bit of sustenance you get from the harvest, so we had always enjoyed them in small doses—which is why I had never experienced their dreadful potential until recently. I now strongly believe there should be a “warning label” on them, if ever sold.
My sweet wife Colleen had heard me tell nostalgic stories about the nuttily-delicious, knobby Jerusalem artichoke that I enjoyed from childhood. I had painted such a delicious picture of yumminess, that she could hardly wait to try them. Being hungry, we loaded our plates so full there was not room for anything else. We quickly learned why they are best served as a side dish vs an entrée.
It took less than an hour of eating those buttery morsels, for the torture to begin as we began passing gas only Questar would appreciate. We immediately knew something was wrong, and it was going from bad to worse as the gas pains evolved into sounds akin to a brass band warming up for a concert or someone stepping on a duck.
Not sure whether eating them raw or simply the large amount of mashed “nutiliciousness” was the cause, our gastrointestinal symptoms seemed like a bad dream… and yet caused us to giggle forced air out sounding like a shooting range right before Montezuma’s revenge set in. Thank goodness for Imodium, or we may not have made it through the night.
After the incident “passed”, we did some research to find out what in the world would cause such pain and agony. Apparently, the carbohydrate “inulin” breaks down into fructose sugars instead of glucose—which makes it a great low-calorie food for diabetics, because of the neutral effect on blood sugar. However, the digestive process is not “normal” and can cause some of the most painful gas in the digestive system that a human may ever experience. That is where the nickname “fartichokes” comes in. Now, that is a bit awkward to even write or say because growing up we weren’t able to say the word “fart” being raised by good parents and grandparents who tried their darnedest to teach us to be proper.
For the intelligentsias, the human digestive enzymes simply do not digest the inulin and fructooligosaccharides in the small intestine, which is responsible for the terrible suffering, and the inulin is fermented by the microbial fauna in the large intestine which causes the hostile result. The digestion is accompanied by the production of hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and other gaseous products which plague and torment the human body so much that you think you have the stomach flu or had violent food poisoning because what comes next is the feared “rocky mountain quick step”, or some simply call the “squirts”. Scientifically speaking this undesirable side-effect of eating Jerusalem artichokes results in what Webster’s refers to as “flatulence” and then comes the dreaded diarrhea which is instant house arrest, lest there be an accident when you thought it was gas but wasn’t.
The violent wind-inducing effects of Jerusalem artichokes have been known for many years but somehow it was unknown to me, as we only ate them in small doses, and hadn’t heard of anyone being tormented by them. When asked, Uncle Jerry Turner stated, “To tell you the truth, I never had a problem because we eat them in small doses.” Gastroenterologists could certainly add them as a natural colonoscopy cleanse option. Even Frenchmen ate them in the 1600s and wrote less than complimentary nicknames which are not understood unless you speak the language—and were too prideful to let anyone know of their pain and suffering. However, in England, John Goodyer’s journal entry about Jerusalem artichokes in the 1633 concluded: “In my judgement, which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir up and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be much pained and tormented”.
Life lessons come from gardening in a variety of ways, from “hoeing to the end of the row” to being restrained in the volume of fruits and vegetables we should ingest in one sitting!
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