I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
This classic poem seems ideal for this year’s Tu B’Shvat holiday, at the height of a bitter cold storm. We too would like to live intimately with rain, as the more sensitive veggies (especially the leafy greens) are covered in cloth sheets, with some planted in the net house or plastic tunnels that protect them from hail. But we are definitely trembling, not only from cold but also from the threat of being hit by frost. Keep your fingers crossed for us! Full report to follow when we reach the other end of the storm.
Tu B’Shvat, celebrating the New Year of the Trees, began in Talmudic days as a bureaucratic-appointed time, the beginning of taxation (Terumah) for the fruits of the tree. Since every year a tithe is given from the yield, it was necessary to determine the point from when the year is counted. Ultimately the 15th of Shvat was granted the honor of being the definitive date.
The month of Shvat was chosen as it is the season in which the trees renew their fertility cycle. The name Shvat derives from the word “shevet”, meaning a branch. During this time of the year, the branches flow and beat with the great winds, bend under the raindrops or snow, break or flex, sometimes even stunned by lighting. The other meaning of Shvat is the delicate facet of the word, that of a branch beginning its growth anew. According to tradition, the Biblical flood ended in Shvat, and the dove dispatched by Noah brought back a young olive branch, taut and fresh from a newly-blossoming tree. Yet amidst this chaos, the tree branches begin their growth cycle: thanks to the rains that have fallen and the days growing longer, the branches develop buds and begin to bloom and sprout new leaves in preparation for fruit.
Here at Chubeza we hardly grow any trees, but we sure as heck grow fruit. The daily work in the field allows us to closely examine the full circle of nature, from sprouting seeds to growth and ripening. It’s fun to look at the various shapes of blossoming and pollination in plants, from the male and female flowers of the Cucurbits to the wind that fertilizes the corn flowers, the tiny pea pods hiding within the butterfly-shaped flowers, and the bumblebees working diligently to fertilize the tomatoes in the growth houses…. So yes, we are a vegetable garden, but if we have blossoming and fertilizing that create a fruit full of seeds, what exactly are we growing here? Fruits or vegetables? Perhaps this question does not seem too important if in the long run the product is juicy and yummy, but you’d be surprised to hear that even the Supreme Court deliberated over this issue.
Literally, the word fruit is used to indicate various types of yield: “fruit of the womb” is a child, “fruit of your labor” is the outcome of hard work and “to bear fruit” is to yield desired results. But the botanical interpretation is unequivocal: fruit is the seed-bearing structure in flowering plants formed from the ovary after flowering.
As this image indicates, a tomato is definitely a fruit. So are cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, pumpkins and avocados, if we go by the botanical description. Add peas in the pod (though the peas themselves are the seeds) and even kernels of corn!
However, strawberries and figs are not fruit in botanical terms. The strawberry’s red skin is a swelled receptacle of the flower and its fruit are the nutlets – those tiny dots that cover the surface of the strawberry. The fig has a similar story: it is a closed meaty inflorescence containing lots of little flowers. The actual fruit is the tiny cress in the edible part.
“Vegetable” has no botanical definition. It is a culinary classification for the edible part of the plant. This includes roots (like carrots and beets), greens (like cabbage, Swiss chard or kale), stems (like potatoes, fennel or kohlrabi), flower buds (like cauliflower and broccoli), seeds (corn and peas), and of course actual fruit like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins eggplant, etc, which are fruit despite being considered vegetables in the culinary sense.
Now, to the legal matter: In 1887, the tomato was brought before the Supreme Court in order to determine whether it is a fruit or vegetable. If the court ruled fruit, then the tomato should be exempt from the required tax on imported vegetables, but not fruits.
Witnesses and specialists were summoned before the Court, which had to admit that tomatoes were indeed fruit… but also vegetables… The Court ultimately ruled that although “botanically speaking, tomatoes are the fruit of a vine, just as are cucumbers, squash, beans, and peas. . . . In the common language of the people . . . all these are vegetables which are grown in kitchen gardens, and which, whether eaten cooked or raw, are, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and lettuce, usually served at dinner in, with, or after the soup, fish, or meats which constitute the principal part of the repast, and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.” Thus, the Court concluded, a tomato is a vegetable.
Tu B’Shvat does not get caught up in these nuances. Without slighting the vegetables that are annual fruits, it celebrates the fruit of trees, the perennials soon to grow on the trees standing in place with their gnarled-sometimes-scarred trunks, through rain, wind and sun, year after year, teaching us that one can indeed bloom after challenging times and continue to bear fruit.
This year, too, we remind ourselves that though it is definitely cold, we are not back in the European Diaspora. Here we bask in a wealth of fresh, locally grown fruit on the shelves which is why it is ridiculous to eat the imported dry fruits to mark this very Israeli holiday. The author of Hemdat Yamim invented the custom to “eat many fruits on the eve of this day and sing its praises…” Let us fulfill this blessing with sweet happiness as we sit round a table abounding with sweet, succulent fruit from the Land of Israel.
Wishing you all a Chag Sameach and a special call-out for those fruit trees among us,
Alon, Bat-Ami, Dror, Orin, Yochai and the entire Chubeza team
WHAT’S IN THIS WEEK’S BOXES?
Monday: Swiss chard/totsoi/kale, broccoli, scallions/onions/leeks, cucumbers, tomatoes, celery/celeriac, carrots, parsley/coriander/mizuna/arugula, lettuce, cauliflower. Small boxes only: Daikon/fennel.
Large box, in addition: Beets, cabbage, Jerusalem artichokes, peas/green fava beans.
FRUIT BOXES: Clementinot, bananas, pomelit, avocado.
Wednesday: Swiss chard/totsoi/kale, broccoli, cucumbers, tomatoes, celery/celeriac/parsley root, carrots, mizuna/arugula, lettuce, cauliflower/cabbage/potatoes, peas/green fava beans, daikon/fennel.
Large box, in addition: Beets/Jerusalem artichokes, parsley/coriander, scallions/onions/leeks. A special gift: a bag of small broccoli florets.
FRUIT BOXES: Clementinot / oranges, bananas, pomelit, avocado.