Foodie Tuesday: Buried in Berries

Photo: Raspberry BonanzaOne of the joys of the warmer seasons is the abundance of fresh produce, not least of all, those little jewels the berries and close cousins like the aggregate fruits. Having grown up in a region known for fabulous berries, in a valley renowned, in fact, for farming them in its fertile volcanic soil in the Evergreen state, I know well enough the labor that it takes to successfully farm, pick, process and sell them, never mind shipping them intact anywhere, given their tender sensitivity and fleeting prime. But I certainly found my way past the sweaty, low wage, arm-aching, thorn-scratched, and slug-tormented frustrations of a short-time field hand to renew my love of fresh berries.

I have long since confessed to you that, despite their being among the easiest to farm and to pick, blueberries remain my most hated fruit, and I dislike pretty equally their flavor, smell and texture despite all attempts to convince me they are Superfood and worthy of desire. I am not a big fan, in fact, of any of the round, popping sorts of berries that are similar in my mind to blueberries in any way—currants, gooseberries, huckleberries, and so forth. I’m not that egalitarian. But the berries that I do enjoy, I gladly indulge in enjoying in quantity when they’re at their peak. I seldom tire of strawberries or of those magnificent rose relatives, the blackberries, raspberries, salmonberries, black raspberries and all of their delicious ilk. Ahhh, berry good!Photo: Blackberry Burst

One of the nicest things about really fine, fresh produce, of course, is that it tastes so good whether you do anything to or with it, or not. Straight out of the field, straight into my mouth. Bright, juicy, flavorful little pieces of heaven. Much as I happily enjoyed that dessert combination of my youth, angel food cake with berries and whipped cream, I think I might consider the berries the angel food part more than the cake. Berries in cream, whipped or not, are also a spectacular treat when I can get my hands on a dish, with or without a cake foundation.

The berries are marvelous as individual sorts or in happy combinations. Whole or mashed, sliced or diced. Superb in jams and sauces or salsas. Fabulous in smoothies. Outstanding when added to salads. Unbeatable in pies. One of the most delicious accompaniments to savory foods, especially something like some magnificent wild salmon or game, whether processed in some recipe or just eaten fresh alongside the fish or meat. Sweet and bright.

Oh, and berries make dandy liqueurs. Berries, sugar, vodka. In that order, in declining quantities, in a sealed jar or bottle. Bunch of weeks or months, shaking it up gently from time to time, while keeping it in a nice cool, dark spot between stirrings until the time seems right; strain the niceness and enjoy. Of course, it works fine without booze, too. Berries, some nice sparkling water and some sweetening.

These little gems are delicate. They are so fine in their pristine state that it would be wrong to over-process them. Don’t be a killjoy. There’s really no recipe here for success; in fact, the best so-called recipes for using fresh berries mostly leave them unsullied by cooking and doing much of anything other than stirring them in with other good things. What are you waiting for? If the season’s on, get thee to the nearest farmer’s market and stock up on glorious fresh berries. If they’re not in season, I apologize for your sorrow, but I must encourage you to make the most of preserves and frozen berries. Yep, they freeze well when properly treated. But my friends, do not slouch. Run, quickly, and get some berries. You can thank me later.

Photo: All Sorts of Berries

Tractor Pull

Unlike those romantic beings who imagine farming as a bucolic and sweet, easygoing fairytale of a life, I am thoroughly undone by the thought of a mere day spent living like a farmer. I don’t doubt that those who choose it can find beauty and joy in many times and places therein, but the sheer intensity of labor and the long, relentless hours required for such a way of life would be utterly and overwhelmingly consuming to a weakling like me.

Still, I have tremendous admiration and gratitude for the work that farmers of all kinds perform, and I am far from immune to the attractions of magnificent farm animals, crops and all of the tools and implements and structures that make farming possible. For starters, I would have a pretty meager diet and little to wear if it weren’t for farmers, so I’m very conscious of the gifts and comforts that are mine by virtue of their hard work and the gifts and sacrifices that they and their charges bring to my existence. You should all be thankful for the clothing contributions I receive if for nothing else, given that otherwise you’d be stuck seeing me flouncing around garbed in nothing more than what I could manufacture from leaves and bark, and that’s a frightening thought.

But it’s no surprise that in addition to my love of what farmers and farming do to give me a richer existence in such practical matters, as a visually obsessed person I am also admirer and fan of all of the beauties that are part of the seen aspects of farm life. I know I’ve mentioned this before in many ways, celebrating those subjects and objects that enliven my dreams and strike my fancy among rural locales and sights as well as vintage and battered, heavily used and aged, Stuff. If I’m not obsessed with the loveliness of rural life, I’m at least a serious admirer of its visible characteristics.

Not smallest among these delights are all of the wonderful and sometimes mysterious machines that populate the properties of farmland. I may lack any ounce of desire to operate any of them, not least of all because I know how hideously dangerous many farm machines are, but I do love to see them, whether in action or at rest. The latter, truthfully, is all the more appealing when it’s of a machine that is so long and hard used that it can’t be operated any further no matter how much elbow grease and baling wire is applied, and it now resides as a totem on the front forty, weeds or flowers embracing its long-flat tires and curling up around its blasted motor. When I think of it, perhaps that’s because I like the thought that I will be held in such an embrace, metaphorically, in my old age. In any case, as I wander through the farmlands along the way of my own life’s passage, I do find they have a great pull on my soul.photo

Country Comforts

It’s easy to indulge my love of the bucolic and pastoral when I live where I do in north Texas. This county is full, as it has been for generations, of farms and ranches of all sorts that intermingle freely with the towns, cities and suburbs of the area. Whenever we take a drive or go running errands, we’re just as likely to see fields full of sorghum or corn, red or black Angus cattle, or sleek tobiano horses as we are shops and schools and natural gas pumping derricks.photo montagePlenty of relics and remnants still stand that tell me it’s been this way for a very, very long time. The little bronze school bell and windmill that remain standing right next to the old Ponder schoolhouse’s clapboard walls seem perfectly ready to go back to work (with just a tiny bit of functional renovation first, of course)–or to transport me instantly backward into the nineteenth century. A small private herd of longhorns spends its days in a cozy paddock that sits directly next door to a modern brick housing development, and on the other side of it is a stretch of fields full of wildflowers and prickly pear, punctuated by the occasional gas well and electrical tower, the latter often populated by small flocks of turkey vultures.photoAll of this makes an atmosphere highly conducive to my happiness: the conveniences and riches of contemporary urban existence, conveniently interspersed with spirit-soothing farmland or ranch and historic pleasures. If I play it right, I can feel like I’m on vacation no matter which world I happen to be in at the moment.

A [Mostly] Black & White Photoessay from the Road

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Farm Frames.
I loved the sweet repetition of gorgeous farms of all sorts, in parts of every state.

Some of the images yielded by five weeks and six thousand miles’ worth of rambling cross-country seemed to want expression in my old favorite black and white imagery. And, not coincidentally, this set particularly showcases my obsessions with seeing patterns, repetition and commonalities.

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Towers
Monolithic bare trees and sculptural bridges seemingly imitate each other.

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Twisted Trees
Driftwood. A helical trunk amid Douglas-fir and vine maple companions.

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AmeriCars the Beautiful
Car culture in the US may have long grown old, but it hasn’t stopped being a classic.

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Boarded Up
Fruit growers’ packing crates. A burned house.

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Shake Your Tailfeathers
Hawk? Maybe. Mallard, definitely.

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Sunday School
The old shed behind the parsonage, the inner workings of a portative organ, and a vintage church.

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God is in the Details
Small stuff, large impact.

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Radii
Spokes that speak for themselves.

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Elephants
An older model pachyderm and an older model Packard? (Nah, I think it was a Rolls.)

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Strange Geometries
The wonder of a weird homemade aerial and the magic of a zebra.

 

Another Pastorale

Yesterday after running errands, we were reluctant to head directly home and do serious Work on a sunny Saturday afternoon, so first we took a couple of brief driving detours into the surrounding ranch-lands and enjoyed a uniquely lush and verdant north Texas spring outing, luxuriating in the marvels of denser woodlands, fuller runoff creeks and richer grasslands than we’ve yet seen since moving down here. Needless to say, we are reveling in the wealth of meadow and pastureland in the surrounding counties, as are all of the horse and cattle herds that didn’t get sold off or butchered outright to evade starvation and thirst in last year’s drought. It’s a beautiful prospect, this well-watered magic we have right now, and inspires the poetic in one’s spirit no matter how it defies other work.mixed media + text

Spring Pastures

Far back among the rolling hills, Where prairie grasses sweep and bow

And the sweet wildflower spills Pour down the slope, the Angus cow

Set farthest back along the line Draws up her calf to join the herd,

Slow-swaying, toward a stand of pine; The rancher there, without a word,

Appears to bring an evening feed, And all the cattle on the clock

That balances content with need, Some time before, began this walk . . .

The faintest glint of sidelong rays Begins to tint the brush with gold

The way late Spring colors her days, As if instead of growing old

She’s only burnishing her tone The more to show her graciousness,

Inviting birds that fly alone To join a choir whose notes confess

A radiant love of living things, Of all that’s sweet and warm and new,

Of leggy calves, of seed that brings That grass now banking up the slough . . .

The cattle walk, now, in their line, Their black flanks shaded in the dusk

With blue-tinged shadows, as a fine Light scent arises like a musk

From all their footsteps tapped in clay, Veils of the thinnest dust laid low

Between the sorghum rows’ array And that tall hayfield yet to mow,

And not one calf among them all Drifts off the center of the trail,

Because they sense their supper-call As sure as seasons never fail . . .

Longing for Home

photoMany years have passed since I first had reason to recognize that Home was not a built structure or even a location but a state of mind, a condition of the heart. It becomes associated with places by virtue of the happiness that embraces us there and also to the degree of intensity with which we are cared for and loved by the people of that place. The beauty of this characteristic is that Home can become portable when we are able to revisit those people or that contentment and security, belonging and joy, wherever they go, even in memory at times.photo

The complication therein is that the more places become Home, the more ways I can feel Homesick.

I will never complain of this any more than I would of any other pleasure or privilege, even when they fill me to the point of bursting–can anyone ever truly be surfeited with happiness? But there are times, perhaps those happy times most of all, when my reverie strays down all the pretty paths that lead to those many beloved locales and times where and when I’ve felt most accepted, at ease, at peace. My heart follows, soaring over all the lands and seas and resting where it will: in the arms of loving and hospitable friends and towns and favored hideaways and palaces I’m privileged to know as Home. It’s not that I can’t be contented where I am, it’s that the well of contentment runs so deep that every aquifer offshoot of it eventually leads my thought and memory back to other greatly loved locales. photo

It can happen at the edge of the crashing January ocean, beside a crackling fire, on an island-hopping ferry-boat, in the midst of sweeping farmland fields, or in the center of some sizzling, jazzy, noisy city. When I feel it, my breathing speeds up just a little and my heart’s singular syncopation becomes more pronounced and I might feel just the slightest sting of salt cutting at the corners of my eyes. Suddenly there is that tingling, that sub-sonic hum, that says I am at Home–and this is how I can invoke a rooted joy that echoes back to me with whispers of welcome in so many marvelous parts of the world.

I have been genuinely at home in the immensity of an ancient forest and on the flanks of a gleaming mountain; under the Gothic vaults of a cathedral, the low roof of a cozy suburban home, or under the spangled starry night-bold sky; among humble strangers whose language is worlds away from mine and in the arms of my dearest, closest and longest-known loved ones. Home, whatever and wherever it may be, is precious beyond words and missed in every atom of its forms at any moment when it is not near or I’m not in it.photo

What I could not imagine, all those years ago, was that I would find myself at home as well in a construct as much as in a constructed place. Yet here I am, posting letters daily to a family of people I may never even meet, and feeling as though I am in a kindly, hospitable place of heart and mind that tells me once again that I am Home. May you, too, who are reading this, always find–or make–yourself good homes in all the places that you can, whether in a graciously appointed house or in a soul-filling hermitage of your choosing; whether surrounded by the comforting presence of people who fill your days with delight or in the quiet retreat of your own contemplative corner–or right here, where you are always welcome to come and sit for a little while and chat and go by the name of Friend.photo