Friday, August 10, 2007

soft fruit

(I am Hermes...) I'm sitting here mugging up on firewall concepts, route injection mechanism, and thinking about my plums (he says guilelessly).

I'm hearing from Norrland that a very dry spell in June means there's not many berries around - the hjortron (cloudberries) either did not flower or aborted. But it's different here in SW England, where the blackberries are huge and early, apples are ripening fast, and it's a signal year for plums. They are not strictly mine. They are in an untended orchard now overgrown and nearly inaccessible through brambles and shoulder-high stands (see a couple of entries back). The trees are absolutely loaded and now they're ripe, so I want to take some plastic bags in there and fill the freezer with stewed plums for future pies and yoghurts and mueslis.

That won't be today's first encounter with soft fruit. My water-based muesli involved finishing the last of a punnet of peaches - the one that's gone a little over-ripe, wrinkled and going squishy brown in one spot close to where the stalk was. [My idea with these water-based mueslis is basically to replicate or improve on a normal muesli while banishing milk and sugar. This one consisted of oats, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, ground almonds, raisins, a few bran sticks, and the aforementioned peach. And water. Milk-fans please note: the water when mixed with the oats goes a reassuring white colour; in fact this is the basis for one of the best non-dairy whiteners, in my opinion better than soya milk for most purposes - though, since you're asking, spiced rooibos ("con un toque de especias") with added soya milk makes a sensational kind of chai. I use tap-water, but be cautious. For example, some recent plumbing improvements, intended to prevent caking in the pipes, mean that that the water contains copper ions, which once drunk bind to the wrong things and interfere with key digestive processes. This water is not satisfactory for use even in the kettle. Nor is filtering the answer; it fails to extract all the copper but does remove beneficial minerals, leaving the water rusty-tasting and insipid. A good bottled mineral water, fairly high in carbonates and calcium and especially magnesium, but low in sodium, is the ideal solution. This advice is not authoritative...]

That wrinkled peach hotlines into a childhood memory - I've written about it before somewhere - one of those that becomes central, at least in the creative imagination -perhaps it did not start off central, but became like that from brooding on it so long... Old Swedish relatives, all now dead, sometimes used to offer me, clearly signalling a special treat, a wrinkled patched old peach, the last in the meagre fruit bowl. I was grateful for the honour, though I bit into it a little queasily, scarcely thinking it fit to eat. That there was a glamour attached to this peach I easily grasped. As Kalm's Travels in North America (1812) lamented: The peaches were now almost ripe. They are rare in Europe, particularly in Sweden; for in that country hardly any but the rich taste them. Soft fruit in the form of berries were indeed of critical importance in the northern forest: bilberries, cloudberries, raspberries, wild strawberries, European cranberries and rare delicacies such as the arctic brambleberry: the lingonberry in particular was the principal source of Vitamin C through every long winter. But larger fruit such as apples and plums, let alone peaches, did not have enough summer to ripen. Commercial cultivation of the peach (native to China) took place a long way from northern Sweden - the nearest sources were France, Italy and Greece. By the time the peach made it to a shop in Sundsvall, it was necessarily to be accepted in an advanced state of ripeness. I suppose this has now changed and, there as here in England, we have acquired a preference for the pristine exterior of chilled air-freight, in turn leading to a preference for the taste and texture of fruit that we call "fresh", meaning not fully ripe: that's how we like our bananas and apples.

Another time in Sweden we were taken along to a high dinner-party and for afters we had raspberries and whipped cream. I went a bit quiet and couldn't finish mine. Afterwards I told my mother about the maggots that I had tried to segregate and that crept blobbily around the rim of my bowl. I was glad that these fruity misadventures fell on me and not my young sister; I considered I was relatively well fitted to cope with them. But the peach, gift of my own relations, is the memory that mattered. It so easily symbolized the love that they wanted to give me and gave me in form - though the substance did not survive translation - , the relationship between us that could not be fully established because of my imperfect Swedish. Though in reality this made our relationships unimportant, in that other world of dream and imagination it became of correspondingly great importance, since the peach had symbolized a failure of realization that even as a child I couldn't but reflect on. As a symbol it was naturally over-determined; the peach also represented (as I uneasily tried to exclude) their own wrinkles, their sweet softness amounting to deliquescence, my fondness steeled by its very determination to hide a disgust that I mustn't even know of myself. In imagination I have indeed modelled myself into the perfect companion of lost grandmothers, the true goal of my affections. But of course such developments within the other world don't occur without feeding back into the thin film that we call biography. The moral authority of my grandmothers grew when they died. From being the possessors of a past that could sometimes, with difficulty, be expressed to me, they were now promoted to being the possessors of a past that was inexpressible and therefore nothing less than holy. The imaginative overgrowth affected real decisions. For example, was it any wonder that at university I studied not (what could have been a rational response) modern languages, but Middle English? And that in this prolonged delight what constantly exercised me was not, how very much could be known of fourteenth-century Europe, but (I insisted on it) how much could never be known... The presence of my grandmothers becomes strong, especially in August. What for example is the point of me collecting the plums from the deserted orchard and preparing food that no-one really wants, the bulk of it iced in mute food containers, perhaps for years, until one day I'll go abroad forgetting to feed the meter, and then the whole lot will have to be slung? With the frugal example of my English grandmother always in my mind, I oscillate between a tender parsimony and, perhaps no less tender, a destructive wastefulness. Wynnere and Wastoure is my handbook of home economy. Apparently it integrates well with unified threat management, too.

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