On Saturday afternoon, my friend Tea and I walked around the farmers’ market slowly. Even though it was towards the end of market day, the farmers all looked happy, their stands nearly empty. The sun shone on our skin. People thronged, eager to buy cherries from Yakima and the first real bunches of spinach available this year. I filled my new bag, the one Tea gave me, with meat from Skagit River Ranch, Port Madison Farm goat cheese, and vegetables galore. Just as I thought we could go, I realized: I hadn’t bought strawberries yet.
Toward the back, a Mexican-American farmer stood at his stall, only four small pints of strawberries left. We gestured, and he started giggling. Puzzled at first, we followed his hand. He had taped three strawberries to the branches of a potted plant next to him. “Strawberry tree,” he whispered, and all three of us laughed. I bought two pints; Tea bought one. The shopping stroll was done.
At home, I rinsed the strawberries and stepped outside into the backyard with a bowl full of berries. The sun filtered through the trees and landed on my skin. I took a bite of a small berry, one that could never make it to the store. Sweetness lapped over my tongue, a burst of sunlight condensed into a bite of fruit the size of two seconds. Rich, full — call it what you want. The words will never match the experience.
And immediately I thought of the first time I bought wild strawberries. In Paris, on an early Sunday morning, wandering through a market by myself. Are markets open there on Sundays? Perhaps it was Saturday. Was it May or June? I don’t know. I don’t even know which neighborhood that clean market gleamed in. Normally, I write down street names, remember details like photographs, harken back memories with the names of people I will probably never see again. But that day — that bite of wild strawberry, offered in the callused palm of a farmer on a slow market morning — obliterated everything else for me. In that minute, I was simply someone standing in the sunshine, eating a strawberry.
Yesterday was a new day for the Chef, his first Father’s Day. (Little Bean may not be in the world yet, but we already feel like parents.) After a morning of listening to songs that made us teary, we drove down to visit my family, the sunny sky without clouds stunning after weeks of rain and 55 degrees. We couldn’t help but singing. At the family gathering, there were long laughs, goofy lawn games played with focused intensity, barbequed salmon, French cheese, Elliott in the backyard splashing everyone from his pool, and long games of Wii. Perfect, in other words.
Soon after we arrived, I pulled the last of the farmers’ market strawberries from the bag. I wanted to share them with my parents. “Open up,” I said, and fed a strawberry to my father from above, like a baby bird. In his usual contained manner, he said, “That’s good.”
I gave one to my mother, sharing that the strawberries had been picked the morning before, that I had taken them from the hands of the farmer that afternoon, and we were only a day away from eating them. “Really, they taste different than the ones from California, the ones we all ate in April.”
She took one in her mouth, and after the first chew, closed her eyes. “Mmmmmm….,” she said, not trying to put words to it. Her face softened. She sounded like me, that day in Paris. And I knew, as the sun shone through the window and landed on our hands, that my mother’s conception of strawberries would forever be changed.
This is why I adore food so much. Oh sure, I love the tasting, the smelling, the debriefing afterwards. But in a wholly humble and awed sense, I am amazed at how food gathers all the parts of ourselves into one moment. And we are new again. The farmers’ silly jokes stick with me, Paris leaps up, and my mother tastes a food differently now because I offered some to her. I am three, and 33, and right now, and feeding my child in the future. Nothing else can stitch together my life like food.
Especially ripe strawberries.
How about you? Strawberry ideas to make new memories?