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A Cast of Characters

(post, Linda Colwell)


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The dame, Marguerite, in the fishnet neck is the oldest. She is caramelized brandied cherry liquor. To her right are two young whippersnappers Jude and Dane. They are brothers from black currants. The dark square bodied Guy on the left is an eight year-old French styled walnut liquor. He’s eccentric and sweet though a little cloudy with age. And the rotund matron in the middle with the lumpy figures is Matilda.

These characters live in a cupboard and come out when it is cold and dreary, viruses abound and cheer is in order. Sometimes when infected with a spring fever giddiness they’ll court some dish and consider themselves a perfect match. Often they are a quick shot or an eye-to-eye toast to a committed friendship. They are the bee’s knees.

Marguerite’s outfit has been in the family for generations. It is an old acid etched decanter with little stemmed glasses to match. Down to three from four after a tumble into a firestone sink, these glasses are fraternal triplets. Clearly intended to be identical they differ ever so slightly in shape and stance. Their hand blown uniqueness is a reminder of pre-manufacturing days. Mysteriously, Marguerite is improved by the vintage packaging that hides her flaws so well. Her cherries are all gone. They were sucked on when colds came knocking, laid beside fat rich charcuterie and scattered about in little bowls when guests arrived. Her pips remained inside, slowing down the mouth and entertaining the tongue. Indeed, there is something sad about the torn flesh of a perfect cherry.

Marguerite’s cherries were dark and juicy Bings from the Columbia River Gorge where the volcanic soils, cold winters and hot dry summers make some of the best cherries in the world. Cherries from here have a young history and names like Lambert and Black Republican. They’re relative elders, pushed aside, ripped out and replaced by young durable offspring with less character but the structure to travel long distances for export markets far away. Marguerite is burnt sugar syrup and brandy from 1996.

The whippersnappers, Jude and Dane, like many farm grown youth, are fresh and direct. Their fruit is thick skinned and seedy. Quite simple, they are a vodka and black beauty base with eight months of basement storage. A bit of sugar. And time. They fly through the mouth in a sweet and tart volley. The boys’ roots are on a Gaston OR farm where they were raised in a clean and wild environment. They are naïve and pleased with themselves. They are versatile, lean and bright. They can stand on their own or dress up with a splash of soda water. Recently, these dashing young men chased a toasted nut gateau down the gullet. I anticipate their maturation and mellowing.

I’d like to say Guy and Matilda are married but they are not. Guy is a mature old French recipe sometimes called 50-50-50- equal numbers of June green walnuts, sugar and alcohol. He leaves his dark stained mark on hands and wood. He comes from a walnut tree felled two doors down that dropped a mess too large to tolerate and cracked the sidewalk. He is her stubborn remains, hanging around to keep the memory of her alive. He is a devoted old son.

This Guy is strange. People either like him or not. There is an odd familiarity to him. He tastes a bit like Coca Cola. Yet, his sweetness quickly dissipates and is replaced by the bright memory of embryonic walnuts- he’s a flirt really, an old man. A ladies’ man.

He started in a jar on the kitchen counter. A chartreuse colored mass of ground green walnuts that bathed in the early summer sunshine and slowly turned brown-black from top to bottom. He is the subtleties that come with a stick of vanilla bean and fruit peels. A few handfuls of mint and lavender and some quality vodka. Then, like Jude and Dane, he spent a long dark winter in the basement with Matilda.

Ah, sweet Matilda. Matilda is Brooks Prunes and Armagnac. Look at her! So beautiful! Somewhat of a wallflower, I first met the likes of her about 27 years ago, a gift from a friend.

Nuggets of fleshy dried fruit soaked in booze, Matilda is more complicated than the others. She is soaked in a strong black-flower infused tea to bring tenderness back to her flesh. She bathes for years in an Armagnac and light brown syrup. The infusions of flavor are deepest in her nooks and crannies.

Matilda is happy stuffed inside a pork loin or nesting in the crook of a leg of duck confit. She’ll drape a bowl of homemade ice cream or drop in on a cup of coffee. She does well in nut cakes and fruit pies. She cures scratchy throats, angst filled teens and their parents. She soothes nursing mothers and their babies. Old ladies love her. Matilda courts and cultivates my love interests. Matilda has a poor reputation with the un-indoctrinated but is quite enchanting.

I adore these characters and their diverse personalities. I relish the anticipatory waiting from start to finish and the slow doling out of precious reserves. They are more than their origins, process and shared values. They are the loss of a valuable tree or a diverse palate. They are preserving for the future and hanging onto the past. They are appropriately self-centered at the peak of their fruit. Their seasonal immediacy is pertinent to their long-term success. They, and I, are parts towards a good end. I have to listen to their qualities and coax them along. Every year is a different year. They too are mastered by their own set of influences that may or may not bear a good year. And yet, there, in the pursuit of perfect, comes the nuances of their personalities. Cheers.