My next door neighbor ate weeds.
Growing up, my next-door neighbor was my idol. He was an old Swedish emigrant who spent his days sitting on the porch, pinching snuff and laboring in the metro area’s notorious clay soil in hopes of making stuff grow.
Grampa Lundstrom was amazing. While the rest of the neighborhood had football stadium fields of grass, a couple of trees and buckets of petunias to deal with, Grampa Lundstrom cut through the sod and turned unremarkable dirt into a botanical buffet of potatoes, corn, cabbage, peas, beans and more. Every morning I gawked at the garden through the chain-link fence that separated our yards as the dirt gradually disappeared under a canopy of vegetables.
I’m originally from Rocky Ford, the hot place in southeast Colorado that grows melons, tomatoes and peppers like no place else. I knew even as a toddler what fresh food is supposed to taste like. But between care packages from down home, I had more pithy, tasteless store-bought tomatoes and tough string beans than I wanted. Until then, I didn’t know the Front Range scorching sun and cool nights could transform tomatoes here to taste like they did in the Arkansas Valley.
Grampa Lundstrom inspired me to dig a patch in my own backyard, which produced one of the finest crops of bindweed and thistle you’ve ever seen. It was a culinary, horticultural nightmare.
But I discovered, like so many others are now, you can try again. This month, staff writer Brandon Johansson explains that backyard gardens are going to be more popular than ever in Aurora. The quest for more flavorful, more healthful, cheaper and ecologically friendly food is driving a virtual crusade for home-grown goodness. It doesn’t have to be acres of every seed in the store. Suburbanites are finding that potted tomatoes or pepper plants among the snapdragons can bring the taste of Colorado’s blazing sun and blue skies into your salsa bowl in a way that only fresh-picked can. Local experts explain how just a little effort can reap hefty, delectable and profitable rewards from your own back yard.
Even the weeds can taste great.
One hot summer day, I saw Grampa Lundstrom’s white hair bobbing up and down in the yard as he pulled something from bare spots in the grass.
“Supper,” he said with his gruff brogue.
They were the gray-green, tear-drop shaped, waxy weeds that grow everywhere. Purslane. He pulled up pans full of them. Washed and steamed them and served them with just a little butter. They tasted bright like spinach but sweet like a snap pea. I was hooked. I didn’t know that what we dubbed “weeds” was relative to who was doing the gardening.
“Gott-damn kids don’t know nuthin,” he gruffed with a smile. “Now you know, and you can tell someone else. Goot.”
So I am.