Enlightenment

Enlightenment enters on many fronts and not least of its pathways is the nose.

A recent trip to the nearby oriental supermarket—in quest of a certain kind of fermented black bean whose dark flecks and funky taste, when chopped, sets off the season’s field cucumbers nicely in a stir fry—I light upon an improbably large bundle of chives. Slender, green, a foot and a half long.

Home again, I snip the top half of the leaves with shears into a pile of bits to sprinkle on soups and roast potatoes—freezing most of it. The rest, now the manageable length of scallions, goes into the fridge in a large glass vase with a bit of water in the bottom and a plastic bag over the top.

The first clue should have been the unmistakeable evocation already of ramps, the wild garlic, whiffs of which we got in spring tramping through wet woods in Wales. The second was less ignorable: a few snips on some corn chowder for lunch and we stank until the next morning. Penny changed the bedding and gave me a baleful look.

Allium tuberosum—Kawahara Keiga (1823–1829)

What I had brought into the house, of course, was not the well-behaved onion chives of our mothers, Allium schoenoprasum, but the volatile Allium tuberosum, garlic chives, buchu in Korean and the basis for what a recipe said was a pleasant summer kimchi. I stared at the remaining bundle in the vase in the fridge. I dug around in my stores and discovered a bag of gochugaru, the Korean red pepper flakes, left over from the last time I essayed kimchi. The kimchi had tasted fine, but it was impossible to open the jar without stinking up the kitchen and so I had pitched the lot, sealed up as it was, jar and all.

So now, too, regretfully, my great haul of garlic chives—the stems, the chopped leaves, fresh and frozen, the whole shooting match—is gone down the chute in a sealed bag, the containers carefully washed, and I think the gochugaru will have to go as well, lest I be tempted again.