Apricots and Misdemeanors

6 08 2011

I’ve been on a bit of a reflective path since I returned from helping my aunt and uncle in Eastern Washington, and today is no different.  I hope you’ll all humor me as I ramble aimlessly for a moment longer.  My recap of my date with Man #19, Thor’s Buddy is right around the corner.

I suppose I come by some of my “foraging” skills naturally.  I grew up on a farm in Eastern Montana, so at an early age, I was helping in the garden, milking cows morning and night, and eviscerating chickens every spring. I had the smallest hands.  (Oops. I should have warned all my vegan friends that was coming.  Sorry. The rest of the post is about fruit  and vegetables. Promise.) 

I love brushing humus and Doug fir needles from a fresh chanterelle, breathing in its fruity, woodsy aroma, and there is nothing better than a fresh baby carrot, plucked from the earth, sweet with a hint of mineral, its “terroir” if you will.  Love that.  (I do hope my readers realize that the “baby carrots” you buy in the store are not babies at all. They are full-grown, “adult” carrots that have been tumbled into baby shapes and they don’t taste anything at all like carrots freshly pulled from the garden.)

Some of the fondest memories I have of my Grandmother take me back to 1979, the year I was 11 years old. My parents were going through a divorce, so my grandmother would watch my brother and I while my mother was at work. Prior to this, I don’t remember a lot of contact with my grandmother, at least not in the way I got to know her that year. 

She was a real pioneer of organic gardening.  When all of her contemporaries were using Post WWII chemicals in their gardens, she kept things natural, and I learned a lot from her.  She was into organic gardening and natural medicine.  She would chew a clove of garlic every afternoon in an effort to stay healthy.  She would sit in the living room, while my brother and I watched her black and white TV, pop a clove into her mouth, begin to chew, and then as the taste got hot, she’d open her mouth and let out a long, “Haaaaaaa.”

It wasn’t pretty, but she was healthy.

Basically, if something could be grown, picked and eaten, or canned and stored for later, it was fair game as far as my grandmother was concerned. This was probably a product of her growing up poor, without a mother, and living through the Depression.

My grandmother, brother, and I would go for walks along the railroad tracks that ran on the edge of my grandparent’s property in search of the asparagus that grew wild there.  You had to get it at just the right time or it would burst into bloom and become unusable.  Asparagus is still my favorite spring vegetable, and I resist the urge to buy it at odd times of the year. This is an attempt to respect both its season and my nostalgia.  My sons love the one or two times a year when I use it in risotto with basil and lemon.

When my sons were younger, we lived in an apartment complex bordered by a small green belt where Himalayan blackberries had taken over.  (Himalayan blackberries are weeds here in the Pacific Northwest.)  The apartment management didn’t spray the green belt with herbicides, so every year, my sons and I would take bowls into the thicket and the boys would help me gather the ripe blackberries.  We would return to the apartment, fingers stained purple, and I would set to work making blackberry jam, blackberry cobbler, their favorite, and blackberry sangiovese sorbet.  YUM!

Fast forward to my visit to my aunt and uncle’s home in Eastern Washington, and one day my aunt comes in after a trip to Costco, all excited.

“The fruit on that apricot tree across the street is ripe and falling all over the sidewalk.  I’m going to go get some and make some jam.  Would you like that Sherry?”

“Oh sure,” my uncle responded somewhat indifferently.

“When are you going?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m going right now.”  (Of course she was; that’s how she operates.)

“Let me get my shoes. I’ll go with you,” I said.

We grabbed my aunt’s neighbor on the way and the three of us headed for the tree.  It really was beautiful. The arid climate of Eastern Washington is so great for growing stone fruit and the tree was covered in perfect, orange-gold apricots.  My aunt was right; there was fruit all over the sidewalk. Most of it was badly bruised or had been stepped on, but my aunt started picking up any fruit that seemed usable.

“There’s a bunch of ripe ones up there,” she said, pointing to the portion of the tree canopy that hung over the fence, “Can you reach those.”  (She can be a little greedy sometimes.)

“Maybe, if I get on top of this wall.”  The tree was on top of a three-foot tall concrete retaining wall.

Now, I don’t always cave to peer pressure, but of the three of us in our posse, we had my aunt who is in her 70s and is not supposed to lift more than 5 pounds; we had the neighbor, a very short Argentinian woman who is 5 months pregnant; and then, there was me, almost six feet tall, no major physical limitations, and with the largest wingspan.

I climbed up on the wall and quickly went to work picking as many apricots on the street side of the fence as I could reach.  It was broad daylight, and we were not conscious of how loud we were being.

All of the sudden La Argentina says, “I hear voices. Get down!”

Sure enough the owner had either heard us or seen her tree shaking, and was coming out to investigate.  I jumped down, put my bag of apricots out of sight, and was about to head in the opposite direction, when I realized that my aunt was walking toward the low end of the fence where the owner of the tree would be able to see her.

Shit!

“Your tree is dropping fruit and getting the sidewalk all dirty,” my aunt said.

Nice! Make the owner of the tree feel like a public nuisance for not harvesting her apricots in a timely manner.  (The strategies one can learn from little old ladies, I swear!)

“Can we buy some from you?” my aunt continued.  Never mind the fact that none of us had any money with us.

“No, that’s fine. I’ve been meaning to get out here, but I can’t keep up with them. Just take what you want.”

“Oh, ok. That’s really nice of you,” my aunt continued. She talked to the woman about her tree and her garden.  Eventually, the woman went back inside and I scrambled back up onto the wall to continue picking.  We took everything I could reach on the street side of the fence, quite a haul, and went back to my aunt’s to make apricot jam, my uncle’s favorite.

Later that day, my aunt returned from the grocery store and announced that she had seen apricots priced at $3.99 per pound.  You could tell that she was pretty proud of herself.

“Well, at that price, I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t steal enough to make it a felony,”  I responded.

My aunt and uncle, la Argentina and her husband, and I had a lot of fun joking about our little escapade.  La Argentina’s esposo suggested that the next time we tried to steal something maybe we should do it under the cover of darkness instead of in broad daylight.  AND, maybe we should cut out all the giggling and talking.

My trip to Eastern Washington could have been all sorrow and tears, but we tried to inject some joy and in the process, I came away with apricot jam and memories to last a lifetime.

Finally, one of my favorite Mother’s Day gifts was a card and bouquet I received from my sons when they were all pretty young.  They were probably about 14, 8, and 5 years old.  The card was a piece of white, 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper folded in half and in half again to form the card.  On the front, it simply said, “Happy Mother’s Day!!!”  On the inside, on the left in colored pencil, there was a picture of a sun, blue sky, a red flower, and green grass.  It was labeled with arrows.

“This is a sun.”

“Ground/grass.”

“We didn’t steal this one.”  This last note was pointing at the red flower.

On the inside, on the right, they had written the following, “Dear Mom,  Today is da day of da Mom.  Yo be da bestest mom in da whole world. Since you da best, we stole some of our flowers as a gift to you. We Love you Very Much. Love, Your Boyz”

Accompanying the card was a mixed bouquet of flowers my boys had picked from my neighbors’ parking strips.  Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m encouraging theft, but the flowers are all gone and I still keep this little card in a keepsake  box.

And, I guess, as this illustrates, apricots don’t fall far from their tree.








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