Strawberry fields forever
Sunday November 05th 2006, 8:26 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

First, some context: I’m a Mormon, and Mormons have a tradition of fasting for 24 hours, usually on the first Sunday of each month. The idea is to step apart for a few moments out of one’s lifetime and take our focus away from the things that we have and that we consume, and then, to share: the money that would have been spent on food eaten in that time, it is encouraged, will be given towards feeding the poor. Generously.

But one of the things that doesn’t seem to get mentioned that often (maybe because you don’t want to talk about food inside a church full of hungry people) is how much doing so sharpens one’s appreciation for the very things we’re avoiding just then. How it makes us more aware of what we have, day to day, how it lifts the so-ordinary chore-filled efforts in the kitchen into a thing of thankfulness. How a bowl of oatmeal can, in the right circumstances and with the right attitude, truly feel a gift from God.

The fasting is not mandatory, and in fact, I, with my string of diseases, don’t do the 24-hour thing nowadays. But still. Today I skipped lunch, trying to do my part, and then, wanting to make a really good meal at dinnertime, got started on making a pie. One of our favorites. Strawberry. My husband bought a multi-pound box for just a few dollars yesterday, and as I took it out of the fridge, opening the clamshell, I thought, was there ever a berry so pretty. Watsonville: that’s what, about 90 minutes away. I bet these were picked on Friday. There are moments when I am just truly grateful I live in California now.

I suddenly remembered a grocery store in New Hampshire, wintertime, snow on the ground, 20 years ago: a worker was handing out beautiful orange slices of persimmons, samples to get the crowd to buy. Fresh from California, just came in, come try out this exotic, lovely, orange-colored fresh fruit–in December!… And if you know anything about Hachiya persimmons, you know the fact that they were slices means, Houston, we have a problem. Ever eaten a very green banana? Right. Exactly. Persimmons–at least that variety–aren’t something you’d want to eat till they go completely soft and mushy, but the poor person roped into handing them out didn’t know that. I doubt she’d ever seen one, nor the store manager, for that matter. Oh my. People were accepting one, popping it in their mouths, and then trying not to look like they were making furtive looks around as to how to quietly ditch this thing. Or just eat it and get it over with? I didn’t understand what was going on till I tried it too. Oh my. Why someone didn’t just say something, or why I didn’t, for that matter, I have no answer for. I bet they didn’t sell a whole awful lot of them.

My neighbors here threw up their hands once and exclaimed to me, what on earth were they going to do with this whole big tree’s worth of persimmons! I told them that Second Harvest Food Bank will enlist volunteers to come pick the tree and, at least according to the local paper, they’ll sweep up the drops off your ground, too, as a thank you. Oh!

So. Now I live where people offer up persimmons to their neighbors like zucchinis, where people know when to eat them, and fer cryin’ out loud, it is *November,* and here I was hulling locally-grown just-picked strawberries, remembering a pie I’d made when I was 18, all the pies made in between, by me, by my children growing up, remembering my daughter’s delightful addition of Valrhona bittersweet chocolate to the 1952 Betty Crocker recipe. I stood there just inhaling the sweet strawberryness of it all.

Puree a half-blenderful’s worth by dropping onto the spinning blades a few at a time. Add just enough sugar and a small spoonful of cornstarch. Throw in the microwave for seven or eight minutes, long enough for it to bubble for a minute to thicken the starch, but short enough that it doesn’t taste overly cooked. These are just-picked berries, you don’t want them tasting like they came out of a jar. Fresh from the fields–keep them that way. Let cool, then pour over whole strawberries sitting nicely in their already-baked piecrust, to which you’ve added a thin layer of cream cheese and a thicker layer of the melted bittersweet chocolate (easier to do if you mix it with the cream cheese, but the purists in this household prefer their layers separate, the way little kids don’t like to mix foods).

That was the idea of it all, anyway. Reality is, I’d washed some raspberries (fresh. A buck a box. It’s that California thing again. I was loving living here more by the minute.) I looked at those raspberries in that colander on the left, the cooling sweetened thickened puree on the right, and… picked up a perfect raspberry, upside down. You know, that thing is its own little bowl. Just right for topping off with fresh strawberry pie filling. So is that one. And that one. In the end, the pie never happened; I just poured the filling over the raspberries and strawberries and said it was strawberry-pie-in-a-bowl. (It would have been more convincing had I chilled it to let the filling set.) My youngest said, “Mom, you are SO weird.” I accepted the compliment quite happily. It was just too good to wait for the excess of fat calories we didn’t need anyway. This way, it came more directly from where God grew it.

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I went grocery shopping the other day, and I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to have a couple of avocados. I spent ten minutes over the bin of “FRESH HAAS AVOCADOS” convinced that the HAAS refered to the sound the truck guys had made when they heard these avocados called fresh. But I wanted some guacamole, dammit, so I spent ten minutes poking and prodding until I found two that were somewhere between frozen solid and mush-in-a-skin. And I got a packet of guacamole spices (pretty good, actually, for a buck, since I’m crap at seasoning the stuff myself). And it was pretty tasty. But I got stuck remembering when I was in San Jose, and I’d just slice up the avocados and eat them on toast, and it didn’t taste like green bananas without a ton of salt and chili powder and all that nonsense. That’s about the only time I miss California.

Well, and when I miss you. 🙂

Comment by Kristine 11.06.06 @ 2:46 am

Well you had me curious. I had to google persimmons just to see what they look like. I don’t know that I have ever seen one here in Michigan. I may have to hunt them down just to try one now. (I will make sure it is nice and soft before I try it…wink.)I am so jealous about your fresh strawberry pie too!

Comment by Lisa 11.06.06 @ 4:53 am

There are two quite different types of persimmons. One, the Fuyu, is small and rounded, and you do eat it crisp like an apple. But Hachiyas, the ones that grocer was handing out, are long and tend to be pointed at the ends, and turn very sugary-sweet as they soften up, much sweeter than the Fuyus, in my experience.

Haas, by the way, is the avocado variety that most commercial guacamoles are made from, as I understand it; they’re supposed to have more flavor than the larger variety whose name escapes me.

Comment by AlisonH 11.06.06 @ 10:01 am

Oh what a tasty yarn you spin, Alison! yumm. I can almost smell the strawberries from here. I love how you mixed them with the raspberries. But even more I love your recipe for strawberry pie – ith cream cheese and chocolate. I can’t wait for next summer to make one.

Comment by Mary Anne 11.06.06 @ 3:54 pm

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