Hot damn, honeylamb, the mint is poking through the pavement! It is time for celebration.
Every spring the return of the mint gives me great joy. It proves that something will grow in the city. And it means that the season for the Kentucky Derby and the mint julep is just around the corner.
Mint is my most successful crop. Unlike the tomatoes that wilted, or the beans that demanded more sunlight, or the cucumbers that flat out disappeared, mint is a survivor.
It shows up every year, right under my backyard drain pipe, and it pokes up under some neighbor's evergreens, not far from a pole holding a "No Parking" sign.
Its arrival signals a triumph over a difficult winter. A winter of salt on the roads, delivery trucks idling in the alley and tax assessments arriving in the mail.
However, shortly after I muddle the mint leaves I am standing in my row house, singing how "the meadow's in the bloom."
These are lyrics from "My Old Kentucky Home," the required julep-sipping song. It is also, in my experience, a pretty good description of where many "experts" have their gardens. They may devote a chapter in a book to gardening in a "limited space," or be able to give a short spiel about the subject to a lunch crowd. But they grow their own stuff out in the wide, open spaces, where the sun ain't blocked by the condo next door.
And so, when growing mint, as when picking Derby winners, I have learned to pay little heed to the touts. I just let it happen.
And it happens every spring, the mint part anyway. As for picking the winning horse, the last one I had was Riva Ridge, which was almost 20 years ago.
My favorite Derby horse is still Bombay Duck. His path to certaisuccess was stopped, or so the story goes, when a can of beer suddenly appeared in front of him. It is a tale that strikes a sympathetic chord in a lot of us.
Despite my dismal record of picking winners, every first Saturday in May I watch the race.
And every Derby Day I make the best julep in world, or at least in my backyard.
Here once again is how to make the julep and sing "My Old Kentucky Home" at the same time.
Recipe: In the bottom of a silver cup or a tall glass drop four mint leaves.
The sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home.
'Tis summer, the young folks are gay.
Recipe: Muddle the mint. This means beat it up with a short wooden stick.
The corn top's ripe and the meadow's in the bloom,
While the birds make music all the day.
Recipe: Add 2 tablespoons, yes tablespoons, of powdered sugar and two to three tablespoons of club soda. Do a minor muddle.
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
All merry, all happy and bright.
Recipe: Fill the glass with crushed ice, not cubes. Wrap cubes in a towel, bash with crab hammer.
4 By'n by hard times comes a knocking at the door,
Then my old Kentucky home, good night.
Recipe: Fill glass with bourbon. Add sprig of mint to top of glass.
Put straw in glass, making sure bottom of straw touches bottom of glass and top of straw barely extends beyond rim of glass. The correct route of julep is down through the ice, through the sugar mint mixture, up the straw, entering your mouth as your nose sniffs the mint sprig.
Sing, going for big finish:
Weep no more, my lady,
Oh, weep no more today.
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home.
For the old Kentucky home far away.