summer bounty

In our most recent grocery delivery I ordered strawberries, cherries, and peaches. Here and now, the middle of July, this is a magical time. Thanksgiving remains my favorite holiday because it convenes family and food, but you can’t beat the peak of summer for luscious variety of produce.

Although greenhouse strawberries can now be had year-round, I find them best in summer. I recall first enjoying them as a young child in our apartment in the Bronx, thawed from a bag in the freezer, served in a cereal bowl with milk that turned into strawberry soup and a sprinkle of granulated sugar. The first time that I had fresh strawberries, that I can distinctly remember, came after we moved to small-town Ohio. We went to a u-pick-it farm, and somewhere in that field I lost my favorite pair of sunglasses from childhood, which flipped up. After we moved to a bigger house we grew strawberries ourselves in the terraced rock garden in the backyard; I took them for granted. The most delicious strawberries I ever ate were tiny — smaller than cherries — when hiking in the Wind River Range. For three days I allowed myself to eat only what I could gather and knew to be edible. That ended up being only pale white tubers, save for two small hands of these most precious berries. The children will tell you the best strawberries they have ever enjoyed came from a roadside stand when we were driving up the Pacific Coast Highway a couple of years ago. We were surrounded by fields of strawberries as far as the eye could see, eating them outside the rental car. As we continued to drive on, we saw the migrant field workers in the distance. I remarked on how hot the sun can get when picking fruit.

Growing up, we had a sour cherry tree in our backyard too, next to the crabapple tree. I believe the rock garden, the cherry and crabapple trees, certainly the locust tree I planted around Arbor Day in third or fourth grade, they are all gone now. When MM and I were dating, she included frozen cherries when cooking the ground beef for spaghetti sauce, because she had read the antioxidants were beneficial. Soon after we moved to Pittsburgh, I invited some former students over to our house and served cherries, chilled as I often enjoy them. Around that time we also enjoyed stewed cherries in a bed and breakfast in Columbus’ German Village, the one time we attended Origins. When the children were that age, I would pit cherries in my mouth before handing them over, under a vague belief that I was helping them build their immune systems. Cherries are my favorite fresh fruit as an adult, delicious in their sweetness and tartness.

The peaches we have are at that best moment of ripeness. They are dear, so I bought only four, and one remains, next to the bananas, oranges, and apples. I don’t have strong childhood memories of peaches, but as an adult there are three moments that stand out. Once upon a time, I taught intensive writing workshops for several summers at Bard College in the Hudson Valley. On the drive from the house I once rented up towards campus, there was a fruit stand in the summer where River Road intersects the highway leading up to the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge. And that fruit stand, in August, had the most incredible peach pies. I stopped as often as I could. They were not made by the farmer, but rather by someone else who brought them to the stand. I have no knowledge about whether the peaches were grown in the Hudson Valley or even whether they were fresh. I just remember that the crust and the filling made the best pies I have ever had. I also remember peach cobbler from the party when my department head welcomed me to the Art Institute of Chicago, made by her mother, who grew up down South. I have made peach cobbler myself since then. But the best fresh, uncooked peaches that I ever had were sold from a truck in Georgia, just off the interstate when we were driving back home from Florida. We had a big brown bag of them and the juice ran down my arm as I was driving. I ate until my belly was full, they were warm from sitting outside.

I forgot to buy sweet corn on the cob, I’ll have to remember that for next time. As a pescetarian, I am acutely aware that this is also peak season for Maine lobster, although I don’t know if those can be delivered without incurring an incredibly high cost. How many more summers, how many more trips around the Sun to enjoy this bounty? People move on, places disappear, we should enjoy while we can.

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