This summer, my family traveled to both coasts to spend time with different sets of extended family.
The gatherings were multi-generational, each of us with our own specific link to one another through lineage and marriage, conferring upon us precise identities: aunt, nephew, brother-in-law, grandmother. Throughout the long summer days, cousins would assemble for tide-pooling, while aunties chatted in the shade, but we’d always reunite, the motley crew of us, for the splendid festival of a family dinner.
Meals were a collaboration of resources, effort and love. On the Delaware shore, teenagers shucked corn while my 80-year-old mother-in-law snapped fresh green beans; on the opposite coast, my cousin’s 12-year-old son made guacamole for 11, his hand generous with the salt shaker. Following in my immigrant grandfather’s footsteps – whose visits to my childhood Californian home included carefully selected frozen, kosher meat from Brooklyn – my husband and I toted a cooler across the country packed with elk and deer. Feeding people feels like one way to love them.
We are coming into fruit season, which is not a slow and tentative event, but one conjuring metaphors of extreme weather: a tsunami of cherries, a downpour of apricots. Because of the fecundity, perishability, volume and immediacy of fruit, harvests require the hands and mouths of a community. An apple tree laden with crisp fruit is a call to gather together to pick, process and feast, an activity undoubtedly imprinted on the DNA of our very humanity.
Fruit season enters La Plata County like an edible parade: first cherries, then apricots, next plums, peaches, apples and finally pears. Like an online dating site, though matching people with trees, the Good Food Collective and Bear Smart websites hook up hungry fruit pickers with folks overwhelmed by fruit. Last year, thanks to these websites, I picked gorgeous plump apricots two blocks from my home while strengthening neighborhood connections. Stripping trees of fruit protects limbs from bear damage and bears from human-related conflict. Just last week, my husband and I perched on a stranger’s hot metal shed roof, snapping plump cherries into bags – though Mike and his dog Harris on Eighth St. are strangers no more. Durango just got a little smaller.
I have the sense that the way we currently eat in America – nuclear families gathered around their separate tables – is actually maladaptive for our species. I notice that conversation is more lively and interesting when the table is filled with children and elders. It seems that when there are multiple sets of adult arms and ears to receive children, the benefits flow both ways. This summer, I learned new pieces of our collective family history and new ways to cook yellow squash. And the statistic that Americans waste 40% of their food was unimaginable while sharing a kitchen with my 17-year-old nephew, on a constant search for calories.
Fruit season stretches our creativity, challenges the myth of independence and calls into question our American obsession with novelty. Perhaps this fruit season can open us all up to more interconnectedness, sharing resources and enjoying the many layers of feasting that comes from eating in community.
Apricot (or Plum, Cherry or Peach) CakeIngredients:2 cups flour (for gluten free, use 1 cup almond flour, 1 cup buckwheat flour)¾ cup butter2 eggs½ cup sugar or honey1 tsp salt1 tsp baking soda1 tsp vanilla1-2 cups pitted, chopped fruit (fresh or frozen)Method:Mix butter, eggs and sugar first, then add dry ingredients, mixing just enough to moisten flour. Add fruit last.
Grease a bread or cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Source: Food writer Rachel Turiel.