Cut the eggplant into small rounds that will roll off the cutting board and onto the kitchen floor. Do not concern yourself with those that disappear beneath the stove to decay. Reflect on the fragility of the plants and the small grace that they survived the flea beetles this year. Heat the oven to a temperature that matches your sense of the summer it has been. Brush them lightly with olive oil. You are an artist. In the heat, their skins will go from purple to gray. This signals that they are ready for the cold of winter. Do not mourn; they will taste better for the memory of what they once had been. Tuck them into plastic bags and put them next to the frozen tomatoes for the Moroccan stew in February. Feel smug, because you are the ant and not the grasshopper. Remember that in Paris, they are aubergines.
Always boil enough sweet corn so that everyone can have at least two ears. (Even the people who say they only want one ear will eat at least two.) Pick the corn just moments before you shuck it and put it in the pot. Run barefoot across the grass and clover toward the kitchen! Race the fireflies! Move fast! The sweetness is fleeting. The sugar fades with each moment of separation. Cook at least a dozen ears at a time and eat them only with people who have never run away from who they are. Cover a picnic table with a red checked cloth. Always grow white corn. Never yellow. Bigger is not better. Don’t let the ears grow lazy and full in the sharp heat of July. Err on the side of childhood and youth. If there are ears left over in the pot afterward, wait until the last light of the summer day has faded from the sky. Return when the sound of children being called to bed drifts in through the window. With a large knife, cut the kernels off the cob. Take pleasure in the way they cling together in flat chunks of neat rows. Put the kernels in a plastic bag and freeze for soup. Tuck corn-sticky hands under your pillow in bed. Dream of the rustle of dried cornstalks with snow at their feet.
Eat the greens first, cooked until they grow silky in a pan with a little olive oil, garlic, and the water that lingers after you wash them under the sink. Leave the beets for later, cut off and adrift. Let them contemplate their fate. Let them stare at you like purple eyeballs from inside the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator. See their hairy little roots as tails. Imagine their screams as you cut them off. The dark, red juice is their revenge. Remember the cheap, everyday plates your mother got at a gas station and the purple stains that never washed off from eating pickled beets all summer. Poke the beets in the pan of boiling water and watch the purple liquid stream out. Know that they are still not done. They resist. Slip the skins off as if you are politely taking their jackets at the beginning of a dinner party, but the beets are not fooled. Slice and cook them in vinegar, water and exactly one whole clove. Wipe the beet juice from the counter, the floor, the sink, your hands. Remember your mother’s warning—beet juice stains! Store them in the fridge for lunch tomorrow. In the morning, find the drop you missed laughing at you on the surface of the kitchen table. Know that with or without you, beets are ancient and eternal.
Fill your mother’s bright green Tupperware bowl with tomatoes. This is how you measure enough for a canner. When the morning mist still hangs low on the river, bring a pot of water to boil on the oven. Call your mother to ask how long you leave the quart jars in the hot water bath. Never write the answer down. Shake your head no when your husband asks if you need help. Push your hand hard against your back where it hurts from bending over the sink to pull the skin off the blanched tomatoes. Contemplate whether it was a tomato and not an apple that tempted Eve. Bring each slippery, skinless globe close to your face and inhale deeply to make sure no bad ones get in. Spend the afternoon inside the smell of cooking tomatoes. Become intimate with their delicate construction, the walls and chambers of red flesh. Cut the peeled tomatoes into quarters, slicing toward your hand with the knife, because this is how your mother taught you. Measure a teaspoon of salt into each jar and wipe the rims carefully with a wet paper towel so they will seal. Imagine your mother, standing behind you. Remove each jar from the boiling water bath and wait for the soft popping sound the lids make when they seal. Listen closely. Count each one. Call your mother to report the results when you are done every single time. Know that she is never prouder of you than when all your jars seal. Write the year on the lid with a permanent marker. Believe for a moment that time can be stopped and your mother will always be there to answer when you call.