Monday, July 13, 2009
Our family's fascinating bears fruit
(First appeared in Orlando Sentinel July 13, 2009)
It doesn't get much better than this," Ralph said as he approached the bedroom with a heaping bowl of fruit.
We were about to settle in to our evening routine of pre-sleep TV watching, a ritual that includes — on my husband's part — some sort of after-dinner snack. Tonight his concoction was a large dish containing bite-size pieces of his three favorite fruits: apricots, raspberries and figs.
The apricots and raspberries were store-bought, but the figs were homegrown. Our small, gnarly fig orchard has been extremely productive this year. For the past week, in the late afternoon, Ralph has walked outside with an empty one-gallon black bucket only to return a few minutes later cradling the heavy pail with both hands. Inside are dozens of plump LSU purple figs, a nematode-resistant strain that does well in our climate.
"Do you see what I picked?" he inevitably asks, even though I saw it yesterday, the day before and the day before that.
"That's great," I say again, understanding his need to restate the obvious.
After years of longing for quantities of homegrown goodies, Ralph finds it hard to believe the harvest he dreamed about is finally here. I find his enthusiasm endearing.
As I watched my partner of 38 years savor his post-dinner snack, I couldn't help thinking what a fruitful family we are. That is to say, our pantry is always full of the season's freshest fruit. While others may stock up on canned goods or meat, our quantity buys tend to involve some sort of perishable produce. Right now, in addition to plates full of figs sitting on the counter in various degrees of ripeness, shelf space has been allocated to peaches, bananas (some homegrown, some from the store), mangoes, apricots, cherries, cantaloupes, watermelons and a South American delicacy called mamey sapote. In our freezer are enough plastic zipper bags of hand-picked blueberries, blackberries and mulberries to make several dozen pies.
Outside, edibles dot our property. There are wild patches of blackberries, elderberries and passion fruit in addition to all the fruit trees we've planted — figs, bananas, mulberries, loquats, starfruit, Surinam cherries, papayas, persimmons and assorted citrus. Two years ago, our oldest son planted a small orchard of peach, nectarine, pomegranate, guava, plum and avocado trees, and we added two cold-hardy mangoes. Timmy's fruit trees have all prospered, but our mangoes got zapped during last winter's freeze.
Fruits have always been one of our main family themes. I can't count how many times we gathered up the kids when they were young en route to one you-pick farm or another. Family vacations centered on farm stops where we could get out of the camper and stretch our legs while filling up baskets (and mouths) with fresh-picked edibles. In season, we've garnered quantities of blueberries, blackcaps, raspberries, strawberries, grapes, apricots, lychees, wineberries, apples, pears, figs and various nuts. From the time our kids were big enough to walk on their own, we taught them how to pick only the ripest, juiciest, plumpest fruit.
Although our children are no longer little, fresh fruit still excites them.
"We have been enjoying all the great fruit that comes ripe this time of year," our daughter in Massachusetts, Jenny, wrote in our family's monthly newsletter. "Twice we've gone and picked strawberries to eat, eat more of, and freeze the rest. The blackcaps are ripe here, too, and we have some big bushes within a short walk, and even a few great ones right in our back yard!! It's fun to take a walk early in the morning and gather berries for breakfast (and just eat some, too)."
Passing on an appreciation for nature is a worthy legacy. As I sit in bed watching my husband savor his after-dinner treat, I see much more than a single serving of his three favorite fruits. I'm looking at a family history flavored by the sweet taste of fresh-picked food. For almost four decades we have planted, picked, sorted, frozen, baked with and shared our harvests with others. We've known both the satisfaction that comes from growing your own and the pleasure derived from discovering new sources of homegrown goodness.
Ralph's right. It doesn't get much better than this.