My childhood days were spent mostly in the city; however, during summer vacations, we went to visit my grandparents who lived on their farm in my hometown where I was born. I got to see all kinds of farm animals, lots of fruit trees, vegetable gardens, and rice fields; things you normally would not see in the city.
Summertime in the Philippines is mostly anytime of the year except for the monsoon season which begins in June and end in August. The rest of the year would be sunny except for some unexpected storms between the months of September and November.
I always looked forward to the summer vacation, which in the Philippines started in April, because it is the time when all the summer fruits are bountiful such as watermelon, cantaloupe, jicama, cashew, blueberries, and my all time favorite – mango. Vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants, okra, and string beans are also at their peak. My grandparents’ farm promised a good bounty and it never failed me.
The farm house, which was situated in the middle of about an acre of land, was surrounded by fruit trees like mango, guava, papaya, banana, jackfruit, breadfruit, and crabapple which we call manzanitas. The mango tree closest to the farm house had been there for a long time. When the tree was ravaged by a storm, the limb lay on the ground and the children could easily climb up the tree and pick the mangos.
We had a nipa hut which served as the dirty kitchen, and inside resided a big rice granary made of nipa and bamboo, which we call kamalig. In the hut, my grandma served us freshly cooked rice in the firewood and a bottle of fresh milk from the carabao which she kept for working the rice fields. Sometimes we would have dried deer meat, also known as tapa, which my uncles would hunt from the mountains. They also brought home wild boar or a big python; whatever they are lucky enough to catch that day. My grandma also served us pork adobo from her own pig pens. She kept piglets to be butchered come Fiesta time. We also had fresh eggs from the chicken coop my grandma kept just for the needs of the family. The dessert would always be fresh mangoes, bananas, or rice cakes.
Cashew nut trees surrounded the perimeter of the property. My cousins and I picked up cashew fruits, collected all the nuts, and used them to play jackstones. After playing with the cashew nuts, we roasted them in an open fire, cracked them open with a piece of rock, and ate them. There’s nothing like fresh roasted cashews in the middle of nowhere under the dark skies with the stars and the moon watching.
The vegetable gardens were spread all over the yard where trees would not shade them. One area was dedicated for tomatoes, another for sweet potatoes, and so on. I remember scouring the fields looking for sweet potatoes that were left behind after the harvest. I also enjoyed looking for leftover ripe tomatoes in the vines which, I now know, is good for a growing kid like me.
Every year, my mom’s brothers and sisters took turn in planting rice in what they call communal property. I remember my first encounter with planting when it was my mom’s turn to plant rice. It was fun at first, but it was back-breaking. We then waited for the rice to ripen from lush green color to golden brown before the time came for harvesting. We depended on the rain for the rice to grow abundantly, because we did not have a modern irrigation system. We had plenty of rain during the rainy season from June to August. When my birthday came in November, we harvested the rice. We called the harvested rice palay, because the husks had not been taken out of the grains of rice. When I helped to harvest, I realized how much harder it was to harvest than to plant. The rice leaves are really rough and it can cut your skin easily. To make matter worst, the sweat from all the hard work made your cuts sting. No wonder that the new generation did not want to work in the fields. Back then, it was fun for me because after the harvest, we gathered around to make pinipig, which is similar to puffed rice. My grandma had a big wok, which we called kawa, and we roasted the newly harvested rice or palay in an open fire. Then we pounded the roasted rice with a wooden tool we called lusong, the same way the Japanese made mochii rice for their New Year celebration. The pounding helped the rice separate from the husks. After that, my grandma will use a big round flat basket made of bamboo called bilao to winnow the rice. The wind helped in winnowing the husks from the rice. When we had enough pinipig or roasted rice, we grounded them and made a delectable treat we called tinupak. Tinupak is made of freshly ground rice, fresh grated coconut, and brown sugar mixed together in the lusong. The mixture was then formed like hamburger patties. Tinupak is a delicious and tasty treat usually served with either tea or coffee.
Those are the memories I have of my childhood, but it took me many years in my adult life before I rediscovered gardening. I grew up in the city and when I migrated to America, I did not have a chance to do any gardening because we always lived in apartments. I pressed flowers as a hobby. I especially like pansies for pressing, because they are so delicate yet strong enough to be made into projects like cards, and bookmarks. However, I was always running out of flowers. In Hawaii, where I now live, I have a small lanai that I can grow flowers. Since the lanai is north facing and does not get ample lighting from sun, the flowering plants did not survive long enough for me to get flowers to press.
Then one day, I came across a small community garden about two blocks away from where I live. I asked someone from the garden how to go about obtaining a garden, and I was advised to attend the monthly meeting to see if there are plots available. I was lucky that day I attended the meeting, because there was one plot available. I paid the dues, and I began my adventure in planting all sorts of annual or perennial flowering plants. The other gardeners gave me all kinds of vegetable seed, and I got hooked into planting vegetables as well. Ever since then, I planted different kinds of herbs and vegetables especially the ones that are native to the Philippines. It was a challenge at first, but reading all sorts of books and surfing the internet helped me with finding all the information I needed to grow all kinds of vegetables especially the ones I remembered from my childhood. I watched practically almost all the garden shows on television and learned a lot about gardening in just a few months. Every time I go to the garden early in the morning, I remember my childhood days which give me inspiration to do more gardening. I plan to be a Master Gardener someday.
I feel lucky that I am able to produce almost all the vegetable I like to serve my family with a healthy meal. The vegetables that I grow in my garden also serve as my connection to my heritage. I am writing this book to share with everyone the plants and vegetables growing in a Filipino garden, to appreciate the hardworking farmers who serve to provide our tables with nourishing fruits and vegetables, and to celebrate our nature’s bounty. I feel really blessed.