Literary Hook: ‘Aunt Christine’s Orgasmic Salad’

By Christine Swanberg

Author and Poet

As the summer season gives way to the harvest season, the tomatoes, peppers and herbs have finally come to fruition. My family is famous for Italian salad. For those of us who grew up in Italian families, succulent salads were a way of life. Recipes weren’t needed.

Conjuring up a great salad was an act of improvisation. My brother-in-law, unaccustomed to the caprice of salads, was so taken by a salad I made up on the spur of the moment that he coined the phrase that began this salad poem. I have often wondered if he meant “organic,” but it’s funnier his way. Here’s a poem to celebrate harvest and food.

Aunt Christine’s Orgasmic Salad

Begin with anticipation, curiosity,

And a herb garden. Be sure to first honor

The birds with your attention, always

Giving thanks for the day’s abundanza.

Then snip the tender sprigs of chives,

Lemon-sage, plum basil, Greek oregano—

Anything whose scent sends you back to Sienna,

Samos, or your grandmother’s kitchen.

Place the herbs in your trusty collander

In the sink beneath the window, where you

Can feel the sun, hear the rain, remembering

Always their contrapuntal necessities.

Spray the sprigs with ice-cold water,

Inhaling the deep green of fresh things.

Add whatever lettuce is in season—

Even iceberg if it’s crisp and pale yellow

For no matter what they say, you need

Not be a snob regarding lettuce.

Tomatoes are another matter. Only fresh

And sweet will do. Do not be hothouse tempted.

Remember how we love the sweet crescents

Of purple onion for there is something

In their pungence that makes us feel more alive.

Eschew not the crisp, sparkling peppers

With their Frido Khalo flambouyance.

Dare to complicate with a good avocado,

A wedge of gorgonzola, a dash of fresh romano.

Consider chopped artichokes, hearts of palm—

Those succulent gypsies dancing in a circle.

Build to a crunch climax: a splash of cashews,

Almonds, sesame seeds. For flare, slivered dates.

The secret is to be spontaneous

And be sure to use a large, open bowl,

Salad tongs with a history,

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar (3 to 1).

Go lightly on the tender spears and leaves

For a salad’s not made for puckering.

There’s enough that’s sour in the world

To go around. Toss—and toss with gusto

Until every leaf shines and shouts Eat me!

Go easy on the salt

For salt is like a well-meaning friend

Who sometimes spins off into dominant,

Entitled, and overbearing. Instead,

Let the potpourri of vegetables and herbs

Construct their own new identity,

Like none before—a poem that gathers steam

Rushing toward its marvelous epiphany.

Be sure to include zest, whatever

Big-hearted gesture draws you always

Toward the zen of cooking, joy of flavorful

Munching. The ultimate relaxation.

From the September 2-8, 2009 issue

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