Unless you’ve been the proverbial ostrich with your head buried in the sand, you have no doubt heard rumblings of the benefits of eating locally and seasonally. Whether its Michael Pollan or school garden programs, this movement has championed healthier eating for healthier people. But I’ll make a confession: for me it’s all about one thing and that it the pure, hedonistic enjoyment of taste.
Yesterday Jacob and I made our semi-weekly pilgrimage to Austin to worship at the temple otherwise known as the Whole Foods flagship store. I found myself in the produce section gazing lustfully upon its colorful, rolling hills. My eye was inexorably drawn to the tempting crimson flush and bright yellow wink of a pile of Rainer cherries. Let me back up for a moment, however, and fill you in on my personal history with cherries.
There is a photo somewhere, no doubt tucked in the yellowing plastic of an old album back on Whidbey, of my mother holding me as a baby. On her ears dangle the joined stems and fruit of two cherries. I feel sure my memories of sun-warmed cherries come from this scene or something similar. To this day when I eat cherries, two sets inevitably find their place as my temporary earrings to be enjoyed last of all. As kids, my siblings and I munched the sticky sweetness of my mom’s home-canned cherries for a year round dessert. During high school, I worked summers at a little café and coffee shop. Every year, one day in late June, a battered truck and trailer would tow in a portable canopy and Cherryman would appear along my drive. I call him Cherryman because that is who he was and forever shall be to me. About my age with a head of tousled red curls, Cherryman sold claret hued Bing and sweet Rainer cherries carted over to the Island from his family farm. Nearly each day I worked during the summer I would stop to buy a bagful of this delicious fruit. Cherryman not only had the best stuff but always gave me the best deals, forever earning a place in my heart.
This year I’ve been trying to put my finger on why summer doesn’t quite feel like summer yet. And while I have not discounted the argument that huddled inside air-conditioned buildings does little for the enjoyment of the season, I feel the lack of cherries in my life has not helped. So when my mother recently reported purchasing 25 pounds of cherries for as many dollars I nearly cried with jealousy.
Now back in the Whole Foods produce section. How was I not going to buy these cherries, even if they had been dragged all the way down from Washington? Well, I should have known better. Though pleasant, these Rainers were a hollow memory of the luxuriously sweet pop and snap I so enjoy in their brethren. If you’ve ever bitten into a strawberry in December after enjoying the real thing from their summer fields, you know exactly what I mean. To add insult to injury, not a single pair (not one!) had the wishbone-like joined stems of my favorite earrings. And this, my friends, is why you want to eat local and seasonal foods.
Fredericksburg does offer me a consolation prize, however. Texas Hill Country is famous for its peaches and nowhere more so than here. Makeshift, semi-permanent, and permanent farm stands litter the roadside for miles around. And the best part is you can see their respective orchards stretched out behind them. I have always liked peaches, but these are another breed entirely. Fragrant and soft with that tender, fuzzy skin, these peaches are nothing less than ambrosial. We buy them by the box and they have yet to survive long enough to make it into a pie or anywhere else but straight into our mouths. I have hopes, however, to buy a discounted box of the so called “ugly peaches” (looks to be about 20 pounds for 10 dollars) and make jam. In the meantime, go out and enjoy some of your own local summer bounty!