Bounty

Homegrown and home-eaten.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY RUSSELL THORNTON
Woman Eating fruit

A hot, wet Spring yielded small, intensely sweet strawberries. We ate gallons of them—in homemade ice cream or over fresh warm shortcake, sure, but mostly right out of the bowl, each glowing berry raised by its stem and devoured—every day in May we could get them. Bought either just-picked at Pearcy’s Mercantile, when the sign was out, or two miles down the road directly from their field, chosen from the three or four buckets the grandfather gave his back to that morning.

Now, in mid-July, strawberries are a sigh of memory, favabeans are finished, and the asparagus in the garden has gone to seed. Our subject, our timely obsession, is peaches. This week I ate the last Red Haven in the proper manner, over the sink, the golden flesh dripping from chin and hands—a dizzying, near-holy experience. (Note: When you spot the flatbed Gilliland truck, driven up from Cleveland, Tennessee, near the border, set up unannounced in a parking lot, you immediately stop and join the line, your previous agenda suddenly moot.

These peaches have brought us 20 years of head-shaking, sticky-grinned pleasure.

The old-timer inspects the fruit in the basket he selected for you, replaces one or two, then yanks an inches-thick fold of bills from his overalls to peel off your change.) These peaches have brought us 20 years of head-shaking, sticky-grinned pleasure.

Tomorrow at the Saturday market there will still be some good late-season freestones, also the last of the crisp ears of white corn purchased by the dozen. Pints of blueberries. Honey, both wildflower and sourwood. Tomatoes are at their best—those yellow grape tomatoes Claudia loves are sugar bombs in the mouth—as are the heavy, seedless watermelons, so dark they’re almost black. Zucchini and cucumbers and Summer onions in abundance, and eggplant shiny in rich purple skins. For the past two weeks, the surprise of local chanterelles, which we’ve eaten sautéed in garlic and olive oil and also, as we learned in the Dordogne, in simple omelets. I’ll trade in my bell jar for another unpasteurized halfgallon from the milk lady, “for pet use only,” and won’t bother to wait. The beaded glass, the cold milk layered with cream, the first deep drink right from the bottle. Good Lord.

When Summer passes, there will be the compensation of apples, squash, pumpkins, pressed cider, finally even cooler days. No profound insights, just appreciating what remains as its brief moment intersects the fleeting moment we’re alive to enjoy it. The abundance of the mistreated earth, those who still tend it, a community gathered and nourished.

By the blessing of bounty.


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