The Firstfruits by Sarah Hartmann Burkemper

Sarah shared this writing in our Facing the Future class this autumn, and I am happy to share it with you!

I generally am not a mindful eater. I eat breakfast standing at the counter, lunch at my desk at work, and dinner slumped on the couch with a bowl on my lap. I forget, neglect, and fail to pause before I eat to offer gratitude for my food and for those who worked to produce it.

But there is one time a year when my gratitude cannot be contained and manifests itself in a ritual celebrating the arrival of a perfect food. That is on the day of the first cucumber.

I harvest the first cucumber around the third week of June. The first one is never truly large enough to pick, but I have no patience to wait any longer. It is usually only one inch in diameter and three to four inches long, barely large enough to slice.

I pick the first cucumber, bring it into the house, and wait until everyone in the family is present. I slice it into pieces and place it on the glass plate reserved for this occasion. I carry the plate around the house, and offer slices to Liz, Ben, and Joe (and Anne, though she refuses). As I distribute the slices, I ask everyone, “Isn’t this incredible? Can you believe the flavor? Have you ever had a better cucumber?” I badger them until I get what I think is the appropriate response.

The first cucumber is incredible! It is perfectly crunchy. It has a subtle sweetness and a pure cucumber flavor. There is no toughness to the seeds. In fact, they are not even fully formed seeds yet, but merely little pockets of moisture embedded in the center. The color of the flesh is a light but rich green with no translucence. The cucumber needs no dressing, as any added flavor would diminish its essence.

It tastes of the raw earth nourished by the decay of last year’s leaves. It has absorbed the flavor of the warm sun, the joy of the wriggling earthworms, and the promise of long summer days surrounding the solstice. It hasn’t yet been tainted by late summer bitterness, or diminished by the lack of moisture eventually caused by weeds.

The cucumber contains the wisdom of the earth. The wisdom of the earth that is nothing more than dirt, some water, and a seed planted in the right place during the right season. The cucumber is sacred.

The sanctity of this cucumber has been understood for millenniums. It was understood by Abel in offering the best of his harvest, the firstfruits, in sacrifice. It was understood by the Psalmist who poetically wrote in 145:15, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.”

And over the years the sanctity of that cucumber has been lost. It’s been lost by availability in the dead of winter. It’s been lost through the efficiency of production. And it’s been lost in transport over thousands of miles from its place of growth to its place of consumption.

But for one day a year it is not lost on me. I am able to celebrate that cucumber because of my awareness of it, though also acknowledging that I have access to it because of the privilege I enjoy. And today I express my gratitude for all of that.

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