Monday, July 15, 2013

Cherry pie, basil and tomatoes, and chicken with sage on the farm

We've come into the height of summer, perhaps my favorite time of year. Saturday we had the first corn on the cob from the farmers' market in Pleasantville. Yesterday I made a cherry pie. And tonight, we're having chicken grilled stuffed with sage and tomatoes with basil. They're simple recipes. A thousand people make them I'm sure. Tomatoes mixed with salt and basil, drizzled with a bit of lemon oil and balsamic vinegar. The chicken, too, very simple. Breasts stuffed with a few fresh sage leaves, salt and pepper, skewered back together and cooked on the grill. The tomatoes are not from the garden, but the basil and sage are.

And as I walked out to the garden in my bare feet to gather the sage, and, fifteen minutes later, some basil. Returning back, watching the clover for the bees in the early gloaming, the sound of bird calls, a song sparrow I think, chittering in the background, for just a moment, a nanosecond really, I wondered about other girls and women, throughout the 175ish-year history of the house, who have gone into the yard for herbs or lettuce or a turnip or tomato and returned in through the gloaming and bird calls to cook dinner. It was a passing thought, really momentary, but new, to me.

In the not too, too distant past the chicken too would have been known, named, its neck wrung on the spot and the feathers plucked on the back stoop, but my imagination hasn't yet strayed that far. I've never wrung a chicken's neck. My personal history does not go that far.

Pie, though, for me has an old and complex history.  Here is mine, pinched and decorated with a C, then wrapped with foil and, last, baked ...

When I was young, my great-grandmother, my Nani, had two cherry trees in her backyard. Her backyard wasn't a fancy affair. It was a very long and narrow overgrown city lot, sandwiched between some unknown something or other and a giant Jehovah's Witness church. She'd lived there on her own since the 20's (the 1920's, that is), thus seemingly forever by the time I was a girl in the 1970's, and I always thought (or maybe my mother told me) that the city must have grown out and around her in those 50 years, while she stayed put, just a 90 year old woman on her long narrow lot with the house set way back among cherry trees and a tiny flower garden, her dog, and the hubcaps she picked up on her walks on the roads and strung along like beads to make up the flower bed border.

Every year on a certain weekend in June, we'd drive the hour from Youngstown, Ohio, to her place in Akron to pick cherries. Up a ladder all day, sun spilling down and cherries hitting a pail for hours on end. Then home and the next afternoon, pitting them, all of us four girls, mom, and our old friend Mrs. Ruth Copham, sitting all on the front porch with bowls of washed cherries, pitting them until the juice ran down our fingers, wrists and forearms, dripping off our elbows onto the porch floor.

Then we'd make a pie. Or two. And I like still to make at least one pie a year. I've tried lots of recipes over the years and have finally landed back at my mom's recipe, from the Betty Crocker cookbook. One of the first editions. That's another story. If you don't know the book, it's worth looking up. The cherry pie filling is simple, too, made with just flour, sugar, cinnamon and almond oil, with one tiny Sherry twist, a dash of fresh grated nutmeg. No tapioca. And it's almost always best the second morning, for breakfast.

The C, too, carved into the top, always the same, has been my tag for 20 years now or so. C for Cherry. P for Pot Pie. A for Apple. There is no P for Pumpkin or L for Lemon Meringue or PBC for Peach and Blueberry Cobbler, those pie species being without top crusts. And that's the extent of my pie making and tagging.

I make pie and Capel sings a song about a girl who makes cherry pies, that I've only ever heard from him, though I know it isn't new.

And after dinner, we sit under the clear turquoise sky, watching the clouds turn salmon, then pink, then dusky rose, then grey, as the fireflies come out by the dozens, winking yellow and floating up, yellow and up, like little momentary lanterns to light the way. The cicadas, too, join their chorus, as the evening descends, gently, and all is well, for one moment anyway, here on the old Pugsley farm.

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