647: Marriage of Berries

We woke early, and my husband asked if I wanted breakfast, and if so, what I might like: eggs, bacon, grits? This is his gift to me, the preparing of the food, and I understand that. I do not want food, because he will prepare it, we will sit and consume it, and he will rise from the table, content in his gift, and leave the room with its littered table, soiled counters and sink filled with the dirty dishes for me to attend to. The food sours in my stomach as I clean the dishes, the counters and the table.

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After the kitchen is clean again, so it will not attract nasty bugs in the heat and humidity that is Georgia, I gather my baskets and leave my house in the township. I drive several miles to the dirt road where my family, and the family of my family that was before my own family, used to live. This is the place I identify as the place where I grew up (even though I didn’t), and I know that this place is where the wild blueberries and the succulent blackberries grow thickly on the raised shoulders alongside the deeply carved and smoothed red dirt road.  Every summer when school was freshly let out for the heat and humidity, my family would come from the place where were living this time, and join with the family that always lived here on the red dirt road. I would take a pail or a pan and I would leave the house and trek to the dusty shoulders of the dirt road to harvest the bounty that only the birds appreciated when I was not there to claim my share.

Today, in my sixtieth decade, I harvest my share of the bird’s bounty while the day is yet cool, filling my baskets before the sun can sink its claws into the back of my neck. I am careful where I put my feet, my dad’s called warning from fifty years ago ringing in my ears, “Watch out for snakes.” The snakes come to these berry bushes, seeking their own bounty from the birds that also feast there. I must also watch for the ruffled, raised heaps of sand that signal the nest of the imported fire ants, aliens long established here, and also familiar from my youth.

I carefully pick only the ripest berries for my baskets, indiscriminately co-mingling the firm shiny round blue-black orbs of the blueberries, and the misshapen black purple softness of the blackberries, staining my fingers with their red-purple juice. When the baskets are nearly full and the sun has bitten my neck, I return to my home and show my offering to my husband, asking if I should freeze them for later or make a cobbler now. He chooses now.

I empty the berries into a large basin and run the cold water over them, watching the bits of chaff rise with the water. I fetch the large baking dish and use my fingers to oil the bottom and sides with Moroccan olive oil, and then I dust it with sugar, so the berries don’t stick. In handfuls, I sieve the succulent berries from their rinse and fill the dish with gleaming purple richness. I have more berries than the dish will hold. I select a plastic, zip-lock bag for the berries I will save for later. And then I sigh with annoyance, put the bag away, and pull out two shallow bowls to use all of the berries today, as instructed.

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I arrange pats of soft butter atop the gleaming berries, add brown sugar, dustings of ginger and cinnamon. In a bowl I whip with a wire whisk the thin sweet batter than will sink down between the berries and rise up between them with the heat of baking, binding them together, even though they are of two different breeds, two different kinds. A marriage of berries, bound together.

When the cobblers are done, I take them from the hot oven to cool, and the cooling batter pulls away from the marriage of berries, leaving visible cracks between them. These are spaces for the freezing cold ice cream to fill, a coldness that will be served with the still-warm cobbler, a temporary patch in the marriage that will keep them together a little longer, until they are completely consumed, leaving nothing but the dirty bowls for me to wash and put into the dish drainer to dry, and then to put away.

I say I will go again tomorrow to pick more berries for later, but we both know that I won’t.

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