Today’s post is very special and a bit of a departure from the regular healthy eating tips of Summer Tomato.
Last week we had a discussion about truly special occasions and how they are defined. I mentioned that though special food moments can be characterized by remarkable food and talented chefs, they can also be deeply personal, reflecting moments and emotions from your past.
I’ve explained before and novels have been written about how moments like this can change your life.
Today my friend Austen Caldwell describes such a moment and reminds us just how special food can be.
Austen loves things. Sometimes they are drawings, sometimes they are poems, and sometimes they are plates of perfectly manicured food. At the end of the day, they all equal a well-satisfied sigh. He hopes that everyone sighs today.
The Loveliness of Raspberries
A longtime fan of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, I’ve become accustomed to his theory that there are two sensory phenomena that evoke memories of childhood and are made the better for it: music and food. Perhaps he referred to the song that was playing when he had his first kiss; I know I remember mine. Or perhaps it was the smell of his mother’s kitchen, the homemade stew no one could recreate, something welcoming and warm, that inspired this epiphany. The music I understood, but the moment of reconnection with the youthful memories of food? For this moment, I was waiting.
Her name was Loretta. She was a lovely woman, kind and always happy. She was short, barely five feet from the ground, but lively and spectacular. She was my grandmother’s sister: my Great Aunt.
I have a great love of raspberries. For that matter, I love berries of every variety: lingonberries, strawberries, cranberries, boysenberries. All are exquisitely delicious, but raspberries, raspberries have always been particularly partial to my palette. I have had a jar of raspberry preserves in my home for every day that I can remember, but I’ve only recently realized why.
Summers with my grandmother in Brunswick, Ohio, we would take the twenty-six mile trip up to Cleveland to visit her sisters. She had four. The eldest, Loretta, lived in a beautiful brick home, the kind you don’t get in the West. She had a modest yard and a modest garden, and curled up next to the side façade of that gorgeous house was a pair of unassuming, modest raspberry bushes. Garden fence and everything.
As a child, I spent every summer visiting relatives, and one of my greatest joys was those trips to see Lala (which was my nickname for Aunt Loretta). She had her own nickname for me. It was Little Bit. When my sister was born, I became Big Bit, but I remained a bit: a bit of my father, a bit of his mother, a bit of her sister. And each summer, I was privileged to visit this lovely woman, a woman who lived to see her 100th birthday, and pick raspberries with her.
Nothing ever tasted so good to a young boy. And, I suspect, nothing ever will, even if I live to see my 100th birthday.
I was seven years old, the first time I remember picking raspberries with Loretta. She was strong for her age, but still fragile, making me feel as if I were doing something she couldn’t as I reached a berry, buried deep, close to the wall of her house. Something elusive. Something special.
Sweet, ripe, juicy. These are the words we use to describe fresh fruit. Of course they were these things. But they were also the start of something new, something unexpected. They were the start of a love affair. Years after the fact, they resonate. The raspberries of these bright, amazing days remain the reason that particular fruit has always struck a chord with me, no matter what other flavors I may encounter. The reason that these, these texturally magnificent, teasingly tart, and subtlety sweet fruits mean so much is not merely their excellence, but that reminder of something else beautiful. To me, raspberries are not solely the flavor and texture, but they are also Loretta’s well-worn, infinitely kind voice, the way she stutter-stepped before she reached up to wrap her arms around me, the blink she always made when she smiled.
I can track that sensation to the first bite of fresh-picked berries with my Aunt Loretta, but it continues. It continues through raspberry preserves and peanut butter in middle school. It continues with raspberries as an afternoon snack in high school, when I was ‘concerned about my weight’. It continues through convincing my friend to make for me custom raspberry smoothies at her juice stand which I frequented my freshman year at university. It continues, and I am just finding out why.
I hope I understand now what Bourdain meant: that those transcendent moments of our youth stay with us, if not through memory, but something else. Our memories of the people and places important to us remain in a different form. They become a different kind of memory, and those memories, of something sensory, something sweet, something savory, will always remain
Do you have a food that changed or deeply affected your life? What do these foods mean to you and how have they influenced your relationship with food in general?
Thanks again to Austen for this beautiful story.