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Jewels of summer

(post, Sarah Gilbert)


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Diamonds may be some other girls' best friend, but the jewels I clasp to my heart and beg, plead and scheme to obtain are far softer and, I'd argue, more Continental than a kiss on the hand; able symbols of both platonic and liaisonic affairs; eminently better bets than baguettes.

One night I am running through the Buckman neighborhood, down a curving street where I rarely venture, though it is only blocks from the high school where my husband and I were almost-sweethearts in the late 80s and early 90s. It is in this nostalgic quiet back avenue that I see them, in the very corner of the front yard of a pretty, dark Victorian house. It could be the witch's cottage in Hansel and Gretel, so taken am I by the sweet-tart berries veritably dripping, drop drop drop, from a vine there. Currants. Each one redder and plumper than the last, glowing in the early evening sun, sparkling even, far more artful than any princess-cut diamond.

I knock on the door, almost terrified, somehow the welcoming cackle of a witch would not surprise me. But there is no one, magical or otherwise, no answer to the door. I take a currant, just to taste, they are perfect: not too ripe, scented with heat and acid. I long to pick, but I continue on my run, my tongue already tinged with the verboten juice. I am in its sway.

It is Turkish Delight from the White Witch; Pandora's box; forbidden fruit. I cannot get the currants out of my mind. It is not just that I desire them; it is also that I feel they desire me. Surely no one else could love them, care for them as I. Another afternoon, on my bike, I detour down that street, berries beckoning, and dare to knock again. Still, no answer. Still, no one has picked a single currant.

Every day or two I wander through my back yard, checking on my own currant bushes, sadly naked of brilliant baubles. They were only planted last spring, and transplanted to a spot near the chicken coop in March; I am never surprised by a magical fruit. And the next day, my sister-in-law stops by.

"Do you want currants?" she asks. The garden of the house where she rents a room has gone, sadly neglected due to the owner's ill health. There are currants. They are bounteous. 

I bike to her house, and she and I spend 30 minutes plucking the clusters off, filling pint basket after pint basket. Two pounds in all. She can't stop exclaiming about how luminous they are, "they look like Christmas." Christmas but better: jubilant, brilliant ornaments of June, July. That night, I lovingly pluck the berries, one by one, from their stems, plunging them in water, anointing them with raw Sauvie's Island honey, simmering, steeping, straining, making currant juice. It needs nothing but itself. It glows in the pint jars, I cannot look at it without that feeling, that rush, infatuation, craving, desire.

I must have more. I buy two pints from Amy Benson at the farmer's market, and later that week I am once again flush with lusty joy. This time I pour some of my treasure into a pot with four pints of fat raspberries, and in the end it is a loose, licentious raspberry currant basil jam.

But still, I need more, more, a girl can never have enough currants in July. My thoughts repeatedly return to that Victorian witch's house a half-run away. I am salacious. I am wanton. When it comes to currants, this is a material world, and I am a material girl.