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Thinking Outside the Gourd

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

Earl Fowler

We’re on the cusp of August. And if you live in a rural area still served (via some miracle) by a weekly newspaper, you know what’s coming.

Ordinarily sane, God-fearing, right-thinking men and women are even now being seized by a primal, irresistible urge —resistance proves ultimately futile — to appear in photographs in those self-same neighbourhood papers.

Posing next to vegetables.

Never with a slice of liver or corned beef. Never next to a hunk of cheese. It has to be a vegetable, preferably from their own garden.

Oh, it seems like an innocent flirtation at first.

Maybe you exchange photos with a potato on one of those dating sites like Onion Grindr or Plenty of Radish. Maybe you trade phone numbers with a fetching sprout over a double double at Tims. (The international dialing code appears to be from Brussels.)

But the next thing you know, there — arms akimbo in the glaring, midday heat of page A3 — stands Larry from the block — your block, across the street and three houses down — shamelessly beaming (more of a lascivious leer, if you’re honest) at a knobby, warty, three-foot zucchini. In public and for posterity.

Of course, that first glimpse of Larry’s salacious side dish is just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

By subscribing to a few weeklies or the odd smaller daily, you could fill a scrapbook each harvest season with sexually ambiguous photos of the hose-and-nozzle set lovingly nuzzling gargantuan greenery.

Some smile as mysteriously as the Mona Lisa. Or whoever that woman was in Grant Wood’s American Gothic, standing next to that lighthearted Sam Drucker dude with a pitchfork. Some grimace pitilessly as Panzer tank crewmen over tight-skinned, seven-pound beefsteak tomatoes poised to go postal in an orgasmic fury of sauce, seeds and salsa.

Under such alluring headlines as Glamorous eggplant or that perennial favourite, Some cuke!, captions about the Vin Diesels and the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the vegetative community breathlessly relate dimensions, weights and uncanny resemblances to Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and seven serving Canadian premiers.

Some misshapen, multi-membered, full-monty carrots outdo your average Chippendale dancer in straight (or not so straight) statistical terms.

I mean, speaking of rakes.

And as the summer matures, we are guaranteed a bumper crop of backyard denizens of a certain vintage purring seductively under floppy, devil-may-care sun hats and come-hither kickers like The Ultimate in Peppers or Big Beets.

(It’s not for nothing that binding clips, stakes and lattices are continually being worn out by more, wink wink, adventurous espalier enthusiasts. Let’s call a manual earth-restructuring implement a spade here: In vines, veritas.)

Fall photo voyeurs vary in their tastes, of course. But for me, black-and-white reproductions of zesty produce deemed newsworthy because of unusual colour patterns always deliver a particularly savoury, piquant frisson.

As one becomes seasoned to aubergine archives, in my experience, one finds them even sweeter when someone has made a hash of the salad.

I fondly remember the year that southwestern Quebec’s venerable Gleaner newspaper ran a front-page photo of an indifferent cat next to a huge puffball fungus on an Ormstown lawn with the caption: “A sad sight: Huntingdon’s historic Masonic Hall awaits its fate.”

No Masons. No hall. Just one hummer of a spore case.

Hey. As any subscriber to any newspaper of any size can attest, humus happens.

Sadly, with their focus on what they deem to be meatier issues, big-city media devote next to no space to the cabbage patch, save for that annual September staple about grotesque, inedible, steroid-swelled pumpkins more hideous than Jabba the Hutt or even former Trump attorney general Bill Barr.

But the back 40 is where the news really grows on you. The proof is in the pudding.

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