The vegetable garden in July

In July the days are long and very hot, the mosquitos rule supreme, and we need to take on more and more liquids. Every passing day erodes the high spirits and excitement with which we bedded out our vegetable garden back at the start of spring. An old Italian saying comes to mind, as every day it takes a bit more effort to drive the trowel through the encrusted topsoil, and as we curse the ever-thicker, ever-tougher weeds that we have to remove. Our brows are bathed in sweat, and we have to be careful not to stand up too suddenly in that merciless sun, or we might have an attack of dizziness; and the saying that comes to mind, like a poorly-heeded warning from our parents, is “L’orto vuole l’uomo morto” – a vegetable bed leaves a man dead.

And yet…there’s that zucchini flower that’s filling out in a way that begs to be noticed, its stamens sucked on by the pollen-drunk bees. We pluck the flowers, wary of pricking our hands on the bristling stem, but fully aware that the stem is the best part – once it’s been fried in a light, crunchy batter and sprinkled with a bit of sage, you’ll swear that you’ve discovered the stairway to heaven.

And yet…those swollen, sensual strawberries, hiding beneath the intricate tangle of green leafage, and which we pick to enrich a fruit salad. We eat the first one whole, then nibble on the others, just to prolong the pleasure. In the end, very few make it to the table.

And yet… that wonderful-smelling collection of various basil plants: Genovese basil, dark opal basil, the so-called “pineapple” basil and Greek basil, which wards the insects away from its neighbouring plants and which tonight, from the marble chopping board to the wooden mortar, where it meets pinenuts and extra virgin olive oil, will become a libidinous pesto.

And yet…what about those dozen tomatoes in their first flush, or that cucumber that is wedded to the bamboo frame and which dangles almost phallically from the net? What about that yellow pepper that seems to regard you almost lecherously, prompting you to think of our Spanish friends and imagine how you would turn it into a quick gaztpacho? You’ll stick it in the fridge and drink it cold, and it’ll be as though you were drinking the primordial juice of the earth, its most vital lifeblood.

And yes, it’s true that managing a vegetable garden is backbreaking work. But as the other saying goes, “Death is unbearable for those who have not lived.” A life in which the senses are tingled by the taste, by the beauty, by the smells and the sounds of the plants in the garden, or even just in some pots on the terrace – plants that find their calling in a good dish, even the simplest pinzimonio – well, that’s a life that shouldn’t have too many regrets.