May 28, 2011 § 1 Comment
A pot of English Breakfast tea steeps on the countertop, covered in a dull flowered tea cozy. I’m always amazed at how warm the tea cozy keeps the tea, as I’m curled up on the leather sofa, under a hand-crocheted blanket. The blanket is a dusty purple, interspersed with green and white squares, and they seem to me like flowers in a field of lavender. I’ve opened the linen curtains to let the light come in and am watching raindrops fall on the canoe outside. They hit with a little, echoing patter and slip to the ground, covering the grass with a sheet of frosty water. It’s chilly here near the ocean, the wind brings in large gusts of frozen air, that swell the lungs. You can smell the briny seaweed dying on the stone beach, turn over minuscule, red crabs amongst the rocks in your bare hands, and trace the smooth, water-worn edges of driftwood washed up on shore.
I’m flipping through my grandmother’s recipe box, pulling out yellowed newspaper cutouts and handwritten notes on scraps of paper. I’m milling through recipes that are as familiar as many in my own recipe collection, and others that I have never seen her make (Cherry Delight?). I pass over the first fruit pie I had ever tasted, back when I still believed cooked fruit was “ew, gross,” which is written on the card as a rhubarb pie, but was often made with the raspberries and blackberries picked in the backyard. In August, I would clamber through the screen door at the back of the house, hands full of containers filled to the brim with berries, fingers stained with juices of berries that I had…um, already eaten. As a child, I was known for putting a raspberry on each of my fingers and gently plucking them off one by one with my mouth. I say that it’s a testament to how many raspberries I ate before I was ten, that they are now my least favorite berries.
Since those days, my grandparents have moved up-island to a small town called Comox, in the valley at the base of Mount Washington. The blackberry bramble has been traded in for the rugged coastline and proximity to the ski hill. But all the jams are still made in house, the blueberries picked right down the street and the rhubarb from the newly planted backyard. There are still jars of summer peaches canned at the peak of the summer heat, and cherries that burst with syrup when you bite into them. I don’t remember ever helping much with the canning; I think I was bored by the monotony of it, the hours spent standing over the stovetop, the constant stirring and the repetition of chopping stone fruits. I much preferred playing the hunter-gatherer in the gardens, crawling under the thorny blackberry bushes, stretching off the ladder to reach the top branch of the plum tree where all the best-looking fruit was (disappointingly, I would often grasp the plum, only to discover it half eaten by birds on the unseen side) and playing with the neighbors’ cat Smokey.
But recently I’ve quite enjoyed standing over the stove, peering over the bubbling pot, stirring to keep the thickening liquid from boiling up and over the rim. It requires getting hot and sticky and staying alert, but I took great pleasure in the thickening of my cream and sugar mixture, watching it slowly melt to a deep amber, and then spooning my dulce de leche into a small glass jar at the end. While certainly not what usually comes off of my grandmother’s stovetop, it was smooth and melding-to-the-tongue sweet. It played well off of a crumbly, barely-sweet shortbread. Despite the flakiness of the cookies and the tendency of sandwich cookies to quickly become a fragmented mess, they held up well on the way up North. As the tiny twenty-person plane shook with turbulence in the coastal winds and the over-worked engine roared next to my window, I felt like there still might exist a frontier left to be discovered in this world.