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Fruits of Good Fortune

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2017 was a horrible year. Well, maybe not horrible, but it was a year of trials and errors, and just plain mishaps. It was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, defeats and setbacks, but it was also spiked with a few major accomplishments. Along with some serious life changes, including a new home and career, I was faced with some very trying and frustrating incidents.

It was a wet winter and spring for us here in the Valley, and some of us with old farm houses felt it more acutely as our ancient oaks and olives toppled and our cellars flooded from the abundance. And, what the heck, the decaying farm house roof needed to be replaced anyhow. One could say that our cups were indeed half full instead of half empty, since we now have water to fill our old wells rather than having to dig new ones to reach the receding water table. And was it the plenteous precipitation that sent the influx of ants and spiders inside to drier, higher ground?

Naturally, there’s not much one can do about the weather, but one has to ask. How can we attempt to ensure consistent good luck and prosperity throughout the year, or that 2018 will be brighter and more productive? Well, according to our grandmothers, all one has to do to is eat the right fruits and vegetables to have a good and prosperous year. Warning: some of this produce represents fertility, so indulge at your own risk.

The most famous good luck food originated in the Old South and was brought to our table by my Arkansas-born maternal grandmother. Heaven forbid that we would be caught without the traditional black-eyed peas, or Hoppin’ John, at our New Year’s feast! One legend has it beginning during the Civil War, with the Union Army under the command of General Sherman, as they pillaged the Confederates’ food supplies. Stories say black-eyed peas were left untouched because they were animal food unfit for human consumption. Southerners considered themselves lucky to be left with some supplies to help them survive the winter, and so black-eyed peas evolved into a representation of good luck. However, those dry, drab, mushy-when-cooked beans little resemble the fresh green snaps and peas with which we now bless our California table. But sadly enough, with all the personal upheaval of the last few years, my gardens have been void of those lucky legumes.

Pea planting may have been overlooked, but that’s not so for my beloved favas. I am still tempted to slip a bright-green fava bean into my pocket, as I had seen my Gramma Filomeo drop them into the pocket of her apron. Was she just saving seed, or did she really believe the old lore that if one kept a fava bean nearby, she would always have good luck and never be without the essentials of life? Whether she believed it or not, she lived a long, prosperous and content life, seemingly never wanting for anything. Whether we believe in the superstition or not, there was at least some truth and substance to her ritual. Legend has it that in Sicily during the Middle Ages, there was a severe drought. The people prayed to their patron, Saint Joseph, to bring them rain, with the promise that if he answered their prayers, they would honor him with a large feast. The rains came and a great feast was prepared with fava beans as the main course, since that was the crop that saved them from starvation.

If you missed popping 12 symbolic grapes in your mouth, as the Spaniards do at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, I believe you can make up for it by drinking 12 glasses of wine instead. Since we live in the Central Valley, where wine is a staple, why not take advantage of the opportunity by continuing to consume and thereby reap the benefits all year? This is an easy one, as there is no cooking or preparation involved other than opening the bottle and pouring a glass. If this alternative New Year’s practice pans out, I should be pretty darn blessed.

Who doesn’t love pomegranates? Those hard-to-open, harder-to-eat, jewel-seeded treasures have been revered in Greece and Turkey since the dawn of man’s counting his blessings. The fruit’s bright red color and shape of the seeds represent the heart, denoting life and fertility, while the plentiful seeds represent prosperity. In mythology, Hera, goddess of marriage, Venus, goddess of beauty, and Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, all claim the pomegranate as their personal symbol. When the Greeks gather for New Year’s celebrations and weddings, they are sure to bring pomegranates to crack open for good luck, prosperity and fertility. I’ll admit, although I do have my own pomegranate tree on the farm, I’ve never jumped on that trend train. I like them and I will let patience prevail while I crack and seed them outdoors, but honestly, my chickens like them better as they fall to the ground.

Now, I’m pretty sure the only thing that really saved me from drowning altogether this last year was that golden bowl of lemons I kept on the counter. In some Asian cultures, it is believed that lemons purge negative energy and may even bring good luck. A popular feng shui practice is to keep a bowl of seven lemons in your home to bring about positive energy and, therefore, better fortune. I’m not really sure if it was the feng shui premise or just the positive sight and fragrance of those sunny lemons that dragged me through a most trying year. I like to think that I survived by embracing the positive and eschewing the negative, but mostly by counting the blessings that I already have. ■

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