Wednesday, June 26, 2013


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/23/2013)


          Her cherry pies were delicious; however, she baked them with pits.  This meant that they could only felicitously be eaten in her backyard, allowing the diner to spit the pits as projectiles onto the back lawn.  Small boys were particularly fond of her cherry pies.  She said that she didn’t want to take the trouble to pit the fresh cherries from her backyard cherry tree.  Besides, she added, “The pits add to the flavor of the pie.”  Her lawn was a nursery for cherry tree seedlings.


          I’ve forgotten her name by now.  It was about sixty years ago when I ate her cherry pies.  She was a bit daft.  When I asked her about the highlights of her trip to Europe, she replied that it was “having tea with the Pope’s wife.”  She went on to say, “She was such a delightful woman.”  A widow when I knew her, she had her late husband’s dress coat of tails cut to fit her which she regularly wore in town when shopping.


          She was a dowager in the small town on the Ohio River where I was a pastor.  Small towns seem to tolerate odd personalities far better than large cities.  There is more room psychologically as well as spatially.  The only places odder are university faculties, and they’re tightly compacted.  As a consequence, my second parish was filled with unique people, but that isn’t the point.  My recollections of her delicious cherry pies with pits set me to thinking about seed saving.


          Years ago, when I first heard of seed saving, the first word that came to my mind was “quaint” and then “luddite,” a kind of primitive return to simpler times.  So many of the seed savers I knew were horticultural fundamentalists, anti-modernist in their tendencies, fervently chanting, “Gimme that old time religion.  It’s good enough for me.”  I thought, “Why save seeds when it’s so convenient to buy them?”  Besides, thumbing through seed catalogues is lots of fun.


          Now, Fundamentalists are basically reactionary, reacting to the emptiness of a fast track society, wanting to save the heirloom beliefs of the past.  The trouble is that they save the chaff of the past mistakenly thinking that they’ve kept the wheat.


An industrial, commercial, and electronically digitalized society reduces and eliminates differences and idiosyncrasies.  A reductionist society doesn’t tolerate either the odd and the daft or the seeds of a wide variety of plants.  It cultivates only those types of seeds that easily produce the most abundant crops and are, thus, the most profitable commercially. 


In the Great Irish Potato Famine in the middle of the 19th century over a million people died relying on one type of potato.  When the potato blight, originating in the Toluca Valley in central Mexico, infected the potatoes in Ireland almost all the potato crops failed.  Since potatoes were the mainstay of the Irish diet, especially amongst the poor, there was mass starvation and, hence, the Irish migration to America.  Ireland suffered about a 25% loss of population.


Commercial and industrial agriculture is setting us up for the same catastrophe, reducing the varieties of food we eat to those that are the most commercially profitable, laying our food supply open to a new blight.  If there are many varieties, then if one variety collapses because of blight, there are other varieties free of disease.  In corporate sociopathy, greed prevails over safety and well-being.


          Many times throughout my life, I have come to believe that which I originally disparaged, certainly politically and theologically, and now horticulturally.  As I learned in college, I don’t have to be a Fundamentalist to be a Christian.  Unless a person is a politician, it’s all right to change one’s mind.  As a matter of fact, it’s often regarded as a sign of intelligence.


          Seed saving is a simple, down-home way of preserving our food supply.  If the big boys won’t do it, then the backyard gardeners will have to do it.  Three sources on seed saving are:,, and Jeff Schalau, the Yavapai County Extension Director.  To find him: type “Jeff Schalau Saving Seeds” on your search engine.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2013

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit GARDENING ETCETERA for the Arizona Daily Sun where this article was published 6/29/2013.  Smith emails at and blogs at

Monday, June 10, 2013

THE ANSWER MAN: Watermelon Radishes

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (6/6/2013)

Q.  Oh! Yoo-hoo there, Answer Man, Louella Kardashian here.  Remember me!  I’m back again!  It’s watermelon radishes this time.  My hubby, Longfellow, feels he’s nearing his final fashion show.  Up here you’d call it the last roundup.  Anyhoo, he’s been feeling guilty about the way he spent his life, especially making oodles of money in the low fashion industry.  As he says, “Givin’ ‘em want they want.”  Having spent his life with low fashion types, you know, the butt crack crowd, he wants to meet his Maker with a touch of class.  The nabobs call it hochkultur, that’s German for high culture in case you didn’t know.  A cultural upgrade.  I just can’t image God being low class, you know, Bach and Shakespeare and Gorgonzola Encrusted Filet.  So I looked around for something high-toned to soak up a little culture.   


A.  I’m not sure of your point.  I’m neither a fashionista nor an eschatologist although I’m with you about the butt crack crowd.


Q.  Patience, Answer Man, I haven’t gotten to my point.  After nosing around, I discovered the Flagstaff Symphony Guild.  I thought that if anyone could upgrade us culturally it would be people who liked that kind of music.  I wangled an invitation as guests to one of their meetings.  You’d never guess where they have their meetings?  No brown bag church basement.  Lunch at the Cottage Place.  Talk about class.  Such yummy food.  And what a delightful group of people!  It’d been so long since we had had intelligent conversations with thoughtful people over a delightful lunch that we didn’t know what to say.  Plumbers’ drooping jeans splitting at the seams didn’t work.  You should join.  Might improve your manners after the way you’ve treated me before.  You were rude to me about the elk and deer eating my tulips, and I was hurt. 


A.  You’re right, I’m not a patient man, and I am on the side of the elk and deer.  Will you get to the point?


Q.  Oh!  Don’t be so jumpy.  Anyhoo, we had a spinach salad with watermelon radishes and a Marsala vinaigrette dressing.  Longfellow thought they were sliced kiwi.  They were so tasty, not as strong as regular radishes which I’ve never liked.  Do you know anything about watermelon radishes? 


          A.  Well, I’m happy that you’re finding a place for yourself up here in Flagstaff.  Maybe it’s the clean air.  Smog tends to lower one’s tastes.   Now, to watermelon radishes which are officially called Raphanus sativus.   Indeed, they add a touch of class.

          First, they’re easy to grow.  Now’s the time to plant the seeds when it starts to warm up.  They’re really an heirloom Chinese daikon although they look like a parsnip, a princess incognito, but when opened up, they’re a gorgeous fuchsia.  Unlike a lot of beauties, they’re low maintenance.  Fast growing, they need sun.  Before planting in compost enriched soil, dig in a 5-10-10 fertilizer.  Plant the seeds about ½ an inch deep, and then thin the plants to 3 inches apart.  A couple of weeks after they sprout, use a 20-10-0 fertilizer.  Unlike tomatoes, where the fruit is eaten, with radishes the plant is eaten so it needs lots of nitrogen.  They’re best eaten when about 2½ to 3 inches in diameter.  They should mature in about 53 days and can be sown throughout the summer. 

          They’re crunchy and sweet with a hint of spice, a very sophisticated vegetable.  Nutritious, they stimulate digestion and are thus especially useful after a dinner with too much fat and alcohol.  They also help with cholesterol levels and blood pressure.  They’re just right for those who live too well and the fast food low fashion types.  Eaten fresh, cooked, roasted, pickled, they shine as crudités.  They go well with  apples, cheese, vinaigrette, bacon, and cucumbers.

          They’re good for you, taste great, and are high-toned.  Along with Bach, Shakespeare, and Gorgonzola Encrusted Filet, you can add a spinach salad with watermelon radishes for that hochkultur encounter you’re planning for the end of the runway.


Q.     You don’t have to be such a smart ass, Answer Man.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2013

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit GARDENING ETCETERA for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at