• Valerie Koonce

Bart's Garden


This week my family suffered a loss and our dear friend, Bart, passed away. He was many things to many people and was such a genuinely sweet man. He was also my favorite person to cook for. He was such a kind dinner guest. No special requests or dietary restrictions, and he seemed to love everything. He also always brought a cheerful story or thoughtful comment to the dinner table. That's the kind of dinner guest that one cherishes.

Bart had a green thumb and grew a beautiful garden. For over a decade he would bring me treasures from his garden to use. I remember once I told him I wanted to make stuffed squash blossoms and one morning there were plastic bags filled with squash blossoms on my front porch. He would bring squash and zucchini and hybrids of both by the armful and I would make zucchini bread, lasagna, pastas and chocolate zucchini muffins.

One year he had a bumper crop of peppers and when I asked him how he did it, he just smiled and shrugged and said "I guess I'm doing something right". I made hot pepper jelly. Bart also grew corn. I was cooking corn chowder one night after work. I had removed all the corn from the cob and placed the cobs in the water to form a stock. He peered into the boiling water and said, "Huh, I guess I've been using the wrong part of corn this whole time," with a giggle, of course.

Bart was an artist when it came to growing and carving pumpkins. Every year we would look forward to carving pumpkins with his bounty. He would carve intricate and beautiful faces into the flesh of the pumpkins. I would then call my sister Nikki to ask how to roast pumpkin seeds. I call her every year because she does it all the time and her family likes them. I try it every year and they don't taste very good and I know I'm missing something.

No story about Bart's garden is complete without mention of tomatoes. I know I wasn't the only one on his tomato delivery route in late summer. He would bring so many vine ripened tomatoes we cherished those sweet globes and made sauces and salads galore.

When I moved to Idaho, Bart came to visit. He helped us plant a giant garden in what we later learned was the pasture. I was peppering him with questions (pun intended). How deep do you put the seed in, how far apart and how often do you water it? These questions seem like normal questions to me, but to a gardener they are unimportant and their answers bemuse me. "Water it when it looks thirsty" was his answer.

That is the kind of man he was. The kind that would, at 70, get his hands dirty helping you plant your garden.

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