Long Island Dreaming in an Osa Paradise

Long Island Dreaming in an Osa Paradise

Barbara Burkhardt

Barbara is the owner of Jade Luna Home Made Ice Cream, downtown main street, and sells a wide variety of homemade delicacies at the Friday Matapalo farmer’s market at Martina’s Bar.  Contact her directly jadeluna1@yahoo.com

Sopa-de-marisco-de-la-costa-esteI grew up on the south shore of eastern Long Island, and some 50 years ago things were a lot different than they are today. Long Island was farm land, famous for potatoes and duck, but it was much more than that.  It was a simpler time when kids ran free, were able to ride bikes far from home without worry, build forts in the woods, and catch snapper (baby blues) with bamboo poles off the docks at the nearby fishing station and crabs with the fish net.  My family always had a small boat and spent the summer months on the water. The Great South Bay was teeming with fish, clams, mussels, eels and crabs. We would take the boat to a small island where we would dig with our hands in the mud flats for soft-shell clams and then walk out to the sandy bottom and dig for hard-shell clams with our feet. That evening mom would make clam chowder, either Manhattan style with tomato or New England style with milk.

And oh what a glorious meal of steamers it made, dipped in melted butter, fried flounder or fluke with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon, so fresh the edges would curl when cooked, served with boiled Long Island new potatoes, sweet corn on the cob, and fresh picked string beans and tomatoes from the garden. Mom wasn’t trained in culinary arts, but was steaming vegetables al dente long before it became the norm. Later, she learned how to make pesto and loved to toss it with the potatoes and string beans. She was a home cook, and what she cooked was almost always fresh, seasonal and local.  Our milk came from the Moriches Dairy Farm in a glass bottle with a paper top. It was pasteurized but not homogenized and so had the silky layer of cream on top.  Our eggs were delivered by the egg farmer herself in the family station wagon. The meat was also delivered from the butcher shop, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, no cellophane or Styrofoam packaging, and no added hormones I’m sure.  Little did I know that it would all soon be over.  Nor did I appreciate that fact until long after it was.

After a long cold winter of sleigh riding and ice skating on the twin ponds we’d  our fill of limp, tasteless frozen or canned vegetables.  With spring in the air so was the promise of early asparagus and new potatoes, with rhubarb and strawberries just around the corner. Salads of every conceivable kind constructed with fresh local lettuce, tomato, cucumber, pepper, radish, spring onion, spinach, green and yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, string beans, spinach, peas, fennel, celery, carrots and freshly dug beets with dark green enviable tops. We could hardly wait until the end of June and the first juicy ears of sweet corn. Yellow, white, or a mix called bread and butter! We used to pick blackberries behind a neighbors house, our hands and arms scratched and pricked by the thorns. Tiny blueberries grew wild throughout the woods to be eaten on the spot. Rarely did you find a jar of store bought jelly in my house. Mom put up preserves to last the year and Nana’s blueberry muffins with slices of cool melon were a breakfast favorite.

Summer always passed too quickly, but fall brought its own delights. Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts so clean and pure of flavor that you wouldn’t dream of drowning them in cheese sauce.  Soups and gratins made of creamy yellow-orange squash and pumpkins, beans, onions, leeks, and root vegetables like parsnip, rutabaga and the ever famous Long Island potato. A trip to the north fork meant crisp fragrant apples and peaches so big and juicy that they drenched the front of your shirt. I remember the pungent, earthy, organic smell of the duck farms. As kids we used to hold our noses as we passed a seemingly endless sea of quacking white poultry. A while back I read a story about the last two remaining farms and literally cried for the loss. You can still find some of these wonders of Long Island, but they are rapidly disappearing altogether. Nowadays too many farm stands resemble Disneyland with their tourist trap attractions, with vegetables grown elsewhere. Such is the way of things all over. The one sure thing in life is change.

I’ve lived in the southern zone of Costa Rica, on the Osa peninsula for fifteen years.  My daughter, Costa Rican born, has grown up with favorites such as mamón chino (lychee), marañón (fruit of the cashew nut), guava, and pejibaye (fruit of the peach palm).  Campesinos come to the front door selling their pork, fish, chickens, eggs, and milk, unpasteurized and unhomogenized, the silky cream on top. In the yard we’ve grown pineapple, papaya, banana, plantain, guanábana (soursop), marañón, sugarcane, camote (sweet potato), yucca, peanuts, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, orange, lemon, mango, coconut, water apple, star fruit, and passion fruit. It’s a simpler way of life, where my daughter ran free and could ride her bike far from home without worry. We wake up to the growls of the howler monkeys, squawks of the scarlet macaw, and the screech of the green parrots.  Now in my middle age, I find I am torn between the two, yearning for the home of my youth, but not wanting to abandon my new home that I’ve grown to love. It’s time for a change, but one that will allow me to spend time in both special places with the people and things that I love most.

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