While I am mostly a good-natured and optimistic Cream Puff, I definitely have an impatient streak that pushes me to rush things. I’m usually the one peeking in the oven and muttering, "Hurry up and bake already!"
Lately, however, I’ve noticed that this impatient streak has given me a harsh edge. It’s not like me and I’m frustrated at my inability to stop it. I’ll snap at family members, I’ll think very rude thoughts of other drivers while I’m in the car, I’ll roll my eyes at the person standing in front of me in line at the store, all the while feeling terribly at my own actions. These past few hot and humid weeks, everything seems to bother me, even responsiblities that I would normally enjoy.
In the late 1990s, my parents bought a property on a ravine lot. The property has a little bungalow on it with a pool and an enormous garden and backyard. The idea was to rent out the property for several years and eventually build a new home. But you know how life is … always throwing you that curve ball.
Almost ten years later, the property is still rented and the enormous garden and backyard are still there. Except now, the burden of caring for this property has fallen on the shoulders of my mother, my brother and myself. My father, who for years so lovingly cared for every inch of that place, is gone and I’ll be honest, part of me chafes when we go there. As much as I love the outdoors and the flowers and vegetables and fruit trees, it’s a lot of work. Hard work. But there is also a part of me that resists going because it makes me think of my father.
A few days ago, duty called and we simply had to go to what we call "the other house". (Like a demanding mistress, the other house can be draining, both financially and emotionally.) The cherry trees required our attention. It has been a banner year for cherry harvests here in Ontario and when I got there, I was amazed to see the trees, stooped over with their burden of cherries. We haven’t seen that many cherries in years!
But I’m also annoyed. It’s hot and terribly humid (damn you, July!). Everyone else is inside watching the World Cup. I can’t find the stupid ladder and when I do find the ladder I can’t find the right position to set it up. The ground is too uneven. The branches of the cherry tree are too thick so I can’t move in amongst them. I want to go home. I’d rather be baking. Unbelievably I’m even frustrated about this blog as I have no idea what to choose for the Flavour of the Month for July. And then I think about how much I dislike the month of July (my apologies to those of you who were born this month). I look around and see the two other trees loaded with cherries and my knees feel weak. Did I mention that it’s hot and humid?
My mother and I pick cherries for hours. At this point I’m bone-tired, hungry and thirsty and so we decide that it’s time to go home. As we pass through the backyard, we approach a set of steps leading up to the back terrace. On each side of the steps there is a tiered garden. At one time, when my parents bought the house, the garden was a sight to behold. Wild flowers and berry bushes were artfully arranged to create a breath-taking vision. But in the years since we’ve rented this house, the garden hasn’t been well-cared for. It’s a constant source of stress. Tenants simply aren’t interested and we only have so much time to do it ourselves. As a result, the garden has become overgrown. Wild sweet pea is taking over everything. Enormous flowering shrubs, which should be cut back, have staked their claim. And here and there I see the defiant red of currant bushes. I stop.
I cannot possibly leave without picking those red currants. I feel gardener’s guilt. As tired as I am, I simply cannot turn my back on those ripe berries. It’s almost a sin. So, with a deep sigh, we begin picking red currants.
Now I’m really irritated. I squash more currants then I pick. There are bees buzzing around me, attracted to the sweet juice, and I impatiently try to swat them away. I’m just about to explode when, unbidden, a thought enters my mind.
Recently, in an attempt to introduce some physical activity into my Cream Puff life, I’ve been taking yoga classes and enjoying them. I think of what my instructor said one evening about how in this life, we spend so much time rushing forward, that we rarely pay any attention to the moment we’re in. As a result, we often miss the simple joy that’s around us all the time. I remember scoffing slightly when she said that. "Easy for you to say," is what I thought.
But suddenly, I find myself thinking about exactly what is going on at that very moment. Immediately, I feel the hotness of the sun on my back. I’m wearing a dark t-shirt that is like a magnet for the sun’s rays. It feels good. Next, I notice a sticky wetness on my fingers. I look down and see that they are wet from the currants that I’ve squashed. I taste the juice and it’s sweet and bitter and good. I look down at my feet and see the basket of red currants, shining like little jewels. I look back and see my mother patiently relieving the bushes of their red currants.
All of a sudden I think of my father. And I know immediately that he would be so happy to know that we’re here, on this little piece of land that was heaven to him, and we’re picking the fruit that he loved. And I think to myself that there is no other place, in that very moment, that I’d rather be.
The drive home is a quiet one. Both my mother and I are tired. The streets are empty as everyone is inside watching England and Portugal duel on the pitch. When we pull into the driveway and get out of the car, my mother begins unloading bushels of cherries, but I march into the house. I’m dirty and sweaty. I have dried cherry stems stuck in my hair and my finger nails are caked with grime. Even so, I march right over to The Overburdened Bookshelf and I pull down Janie Hibler’s The Berry Bible. I remember my urge to be "berrified." I smile because I’ve found my Flavour of the Month. Patting the cookbook, I put it down on the desk by the computer.
And then I go back outside to help my mother with our harvest of cherries and red currants.
Adapted from The Berry Bible by Janie Hibler.
- 5 cups cold water
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- juice and zest of 5 lemons (zest should be peeled or coarsely grated)
- 2 cups strawberries, washed, hulled and sliced
- Place 2 cups cold water in a pot and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved.
- Once sugar is dissolved, remove from the heat and add the lemon juice, lemon zest and remaining 3 cups water. Let cool completely.
- Place the sliced strawberries in a blender or food processor and process until completely pureed.
- Once the lemon mixture is cool, mix in the strawberry puree. Strain into a pitcher through a sieve.
- Refrigerate until cold.