Nostalgia has always seemed to me an emotion that has gone bad. It reminds me of biting into a peach that has been bruised and then sat in a bowl until it was overripe -- a mouthful of unpleasant mush. Yet, I notice that it's hard not to find the mind going back to youthful times that were in some ways, better. Nostalgia, says the dictionary is first defined as homesickness. No, that's not what I'm talking about. What I am thinking about as summer has arrived and the always abundant fruit and vegetable stores are bursting with things I want to love, have long loved but which now often disappoint. Right now it's strawberries for this has always been strawberry time. They smell almost -- not almost, truly -- too good to be true. [We'll come back to these tomatoes in a bit]
The strawberries in the market are large and perfectly shaped. And they always disappoint me. I AM nostalgic for those smaller, sometimes oddly shaped strawberries in the small garden patch my mother cultivated or in the big acre or so of pay-adnd-pick strawberries about 10 miles from our home. They were washed under running water and then one-by-one the stems were cut off, and each sliced in half lengthwise and dropped into a big bowl. Then the bowlful was mixed with a generous scoop of sugar, stirred to coat all and put in the refrigerator until dessert time. They were excellent by themselves but even better on top of a split hot baking powder biscuit with or without butter -- without butter if we happened to have whipped cream, which wasn't usual. The cream was separated from the milk morning and night and sold separately to the dairy that picked up the cans - cream, of course, was worth more. The sugar on the strawberries drew out natural juices which was SO good soaked into the biscuits! The ones in the market seem to have no natural juice.
I have not tasted strawberries as good as those for many years so I almost never purchase them although they are always available now. Most have almost no flavor. Other fruit is usually so unripe it has to be left out of the refrigerator for a few days -- and then often spoils for it is not meant to become truly ripe. It saddens me that a generation exists that does not know grapefruit should be naturally sweet, or that pears should be juicy, likewise peaches and plums. I wonder if our natural sensuousness is blunted if we have not learned about the flavor of a naturally ripe piece of fruit. If you don't know the "system" has derived you of something, does it matter? Well, I think it does. These apricots were not nearly as good as "natural" ones I bought by the kilo in Greece. The cherries, fortunately, are fairly dependable.
But TOMATOES! Tomatoes are almost synonymous with red-tasteless-spheroids. The tomatoes at the top of this post are "heirloom exotics", including the yellow and deep plum colored ones. Sometimes, I found last fall when they began appearing in a local market, they actually have a tomato flavor. No, it doesn't come anywhere near the "from the garden" flavor I remember -- truly sweet, truly tomato-y, needing not even salt to be such a treat in the mouth they can transport the way a perfect peach can.
I will keep on purchasing fruit and veggies because, even with their flavor stunted they are usually more satifying to me than most meats. And better for me, although I suspect they've also lost, not only natural sugar but other nutrition. Yes, I'm nostalgic for the produce from my childhood. I am NOT nostalgic about hoeing the garden or snapping half bushels of green beens to can or for peeling potatoes. I have a choice now that didn't exist in my asparagus-less, artichoke-less, avocado-less -- I could go on -- childhood. I don't want to return, I just want sweetness in foods instead of plasticity.
ELDER MUSIC: Send More Chuck Berry - This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge an...
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