Jul 15 2006
Millions of peaches, peaches for me
It is peach season here in California — along with tomato season, squash season, blueberry season, and just about any other summer vegetable season you can think of — and I am in heaven. There are peaches everywhere; peaches one pound for a dollar, two pounds for four dollars (the organic ones), yellow peaches, white peaches, overripes. I desperately wish I had more friends so I could justify buying a case and make cobblers. As it is I buy a bag and have one a day at lunch, and sometimes another in the afternoon when I get home. A peach a day keeps the doctor away? They seem too sugary, too sweet, too delicious for that; eating a truly ripe yellow peach is like kissing your lover unexpectedly or holding a child that’s dear to you, or jumping into a cool, clear river on a hot, hot day: all-encompassing, all-important, sweet on the tongue.
There are also blueberries, as I mentioned before, which I have a strong connection to. Blueberries grow suprisingly well in Arkansas and they formed a large part of my childhood. We went and picked-your-own every summer; I have some very early memories of sitting in the shade on the edge of the blueberry patch eating blueberries fresh-picked and still warm from the sun over vanilla ice cream, provided by the proprietor. Some time later one of my first summer jobs was working on a friend’s blueberry farm; acres and acres of tiny bushes, gleaming powdery berries, a flavor I never got tired of even then.
My late grandfather also loved blueberries, and I faintly remember picking them with him. He was childlike in the things he loved — blueberries, ice cream — in a way that was neither naive nor complicated; he simply recognized beautiful things in life. My mother would always bring a blueberry pie to christmas with berries we had kept frozen and he would never fail to be delighted…
The blueberries here come from the coast, as it’s too dry for them in the central valley, and they are not as good as the ones from home. But they are still delicious.
This summer superabundance of vegetables reminds me of home too, reminds me of the acres of garden we used to keep, that my mother spent years on. I grew up in a home where bringing in pails of vegetables from the garden every summer evening was a ritual, in the gathering dusk with the fireflies and the cicadas, the hum of the woods about us and the dry dust in patches of bare ground, the lushness of vines and trees, jungle-like, sultry. The first chore I remember doing was helping weed the garden; the first plot I had were our herbs, which appealed to me more than the overgrown vegetables. When she was strong and healthy and the garden was at its prime my mom canned vegetable stew and tomato sauce, green beans and fruit. Once we drove to a town known for peaches and filled up the back of the Honda with flats and flats and spent the whole week canning. I grew up in a hot kitchen, 90% humidity outside and steam building up on the windows inside from the pressure cooker; “hell”, my mom might have said, “let’s bake some bread, too – it can’t get any hotter.” It’s in the blood, in the genes; family legend says my grandmother was canning peaches the day before she gave birth to my mother. We had stewed baby crookneck squash with onions and tomatos, and ratatouille with fresh bread; we had gazpacho and homemade pesto and fried okra and fried green tomatos with rice. We had pie and cobblers, misshapen because my mother would always put too much fruit in and utterly delicous. Long ago memories, a taste on the tongue. Today for me, buying vegetables at the farmer’s market works ok in a purely practical sense, but it’s not quite as completing; perhaps I will move back to the country when I get old, for any child of mine should get dirty and learn how to pick his own dinner too.
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