My Grampa was a classic naturalist, fascinated by the living world around him. He filled his shelves with volumes on flora and fauna, and his garden with as many varieties as it could hold. Many a Saturday I joined him at his table for some vegetable soup that would usually contain at least a dozen veggies, all grown not fifty feet from the table. His curiosity was piqued by the shoot which he couldn't identify and he nurtured it to see what it would become. Now, on that spot in the corner of the garden there stands a lovely pot roast tree.
His friends in education, science and biology teachers, professors from universities, they all scoffed when he told them of the new variety he had discovered. But as much as they derided him, none could argue the existence of the tree once they saw it. Another specimen has never been found and no fruit from the tree has ever produced another shoot. We don't question it, we just enjoy it and preserve it for future generations.
Through droughts and floods, the Blizzard of '77, pests, lightening strikes and countless perrils the tree has stood. It needs precious little in the way of care. Just the occasional pruning of damaged branches.
It's a big night at the Dayton house when we pull a roast out of the freezer. Usually we save them for special occasions when the whole family is together. The uncles swap stories about harvests of years past. When he was still with us Grampa would often tell the tales of chasing off sneaky neighborhood boys.
Now our own children are growing up in the shade of it's boughs. All spring and summer it looks almost like an apple tree from a ways off. Up close though you can see that the leaves are shaped like little hooves, and the faint odor of manure is always a give away. Not entirely unpleasant, it reminds me of the small family farms that didn't have free stall barns and liquid slurry ponds.
Toward the beginning of August the tree starts to set fruit. Tiny tufts of white and black start to appear. In the dog days of summer the miniature cow tails mature into plump, juicy pot roasts, as fine looking as any you'll ever see in a butcher's case. Most people complain about the dog days of summer, but not us. On those simmering nights we sit in our lawn chairs and enjoy the pleasant smell of roast drifting in. Some swear you can hear something like a gentle lowing when the breeze blows through the branches just so.
Just before school starts the roasts are usually ready. You have to watch them closely. Once picked you can freeze them, but while still on the branch they are susceptible to frost. One year we had spent a Sunday out and came home too tired to check them. That night we had a frost and lost the whole crop to freezer burn. We tried to salvage some of them but they were as tough as shoe leather. That only happened once.
When they're getting close we'll check them every hour. Sometimes I'll even take a day off from work. When the verdict is finally in we call the kids and they come barreling around the side of the house, Radio Flyer in tow. The Missus and I grab big white squares of butcher paper and carefully take down each roast. We wrap them up and gently pass them to the kids who stack them in the wagon.
When it's full we pull it carefully up to the back door and pass them in, bucket brigade style and usually fill up the bottom two shelves of the big freezer. We always save out a large-ish one though, to savor right away. We call my folks and any other relatives within easy driving distance. The Missus trims the fat and I hustle out to the garden for some fresh taters, carrots and onions to roast with it.
After a few giddy hours we pull that finely marbled slab out and view it in all its splendor. It's usually all we can do to keep the kids in check as they bounce around the kitchen singing the family Pot Roast Tree song.
Pot Roast Tree,
The Pot Roast Tree,
Oh I love it and it loves me.
It's not much of a song, we know. But there's not really much floating around in the collective body of folk song to commemorate such a thing, so we make do.
Hours later with full bellies we push back from the table, utterly satisfied. As the sun sets we head out to the back yard to watch the last leaves fall. Right after the harvest the tree sheds all its leaves, the first sign of coming fall. The maples and oaks won't be showing a hint of color for a few more weeks yet, but our beloved pot roast tree is spent, and ready for a much deserved winter's slumber.
We just tucked in to a splendid piece of pot roast tonight and I thought I'd share that little slice of family history. If you're ever in the neighborhood on pot roast night, stop on in. There's always plenty and it's always tender and juicy. Mmmmmm mmmmmm... pot roast.