Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Love You. Now Eat.

The thermostat is reading in the high nineties, and I can feel the sweat trickling down my back. My fingers are stained purple and red, and thorns have left scritch-scratch marks all up and down my forearms.  When I straighten up, I've got a handful of plump blackberries that will soon become jam, and all that I can see for miles, are the steamy hill country rolls of peach trees.

I'm not a chef and I've never been accused of being a Miss Fancy Pants, but I do love to cook. I am a mess of obsession for color and for flavor.  If I bake you a pie, that means I love you.  If you find avocado and mango sandwiches wrapped up with your name on the tinfoil, its because I've got a fondness for you; and well, if you're eating the chocolate pecan pie I made, you might as well come to grips with the fact that you and I are linked for this lifetime. 

By the same token, if I don't cook you anything at all and suggest you check out what WhataBurger is serving, well, you must have pissed me off.  Sea salt caramel and chocolate work wonders for mending that though, fyi. 

I laced up my sneakers and grabbed a hat for what promised to be an excellent late spring adventure in a hill country orchard.  There is absolutely nothing better than those back roads and the turn-off to the orchard that goes past a pond with the run-of-the-end-and-into-the-blissful-water deck, over the cattle guard and suddenly ... there I am .... about 50 miles away from town, traffic and anything distracting. 

If you're like almost everyone, eating the HEB strawberries from the plastic box, you think you've experienced summer when you bite into one of those (tasteless) never-quite-ripe-in-the-right-way berries. so sad.  There is no comparison to kneeling there in the sandy banks next to the strawberry plants, and biting into a berry the size of your thumb ... just a little thing .... and the sun-warmed berry makes you nearly pass out.  Bliss.  With the berry juice staining fingers to a crimson blush, this is the moment one might realize they've truly experienced love. Nirvana. 

If you haven't experienced such a thing, I suggest you get up, go and find it. And if you have no interest in finding it, then you might as well just move over so someone else can breathe in that air that kind of smells like cinnamon and smoke, the gust of wind of a life fully lived.

I collected a full basket of strawberries and I am going to make it into a pie today for someone special.  Those blackberries are going to be cooked down with lemon juice and sugar into jam that I will spoon over banana bread.  The two bushels of peaches I picked will become pie, jam, spooned over ice cream, pulled out from the freezer when the trees are bare, folded into pancakes, made into salsa and parfaits...

The farm hand at the orchard liked the peach trees. Standing under the branches was cooler and a respite from the rising heat. When I was picking from the lower branches, he pointed at the center truck and advised me to pick from the middle, where the sweeter and larger peaches live.  He added his own pickings to my cardboard bushel box and gave me a ride back to the shack where I could pay for my fruit and wash off from a spigot under the oaks.  As I drove away later, I noticed him reaching for fruit for another intrepid visitor with peach wanderlust. 

One sticky hand up, I wave and smile.  It is a very good day, an excellent day for an adventure and the promise of pie.