Weekly Newsletter: Remembrance of Fruits Past

Earlier today, knowing that I needed to sit down and write this evening, I was seeking inspiration in all the wrong places, and it was hard to find on a hot, sultry day way too early in the season. So I stepped into the kitchen and looked at what I had brought home from the market this week and realized that we are on the cusp of another summer full of fantastic ingredients just sitting there waiting for me to cook them up. It’s enough to make you wish they knew what joy they bring to those of us who love to cook and eat!

My kitchen has smelled like peaches all week, and I will make tomorrow the first Fresh Peach Cake of the season to take to Chester on Tuesday to sample at his stall — it’s either that or eat it all myself. There are blueberries in my refrigerator waiting to be surrounded by a lovely corn muffin batter — I may bring those to market too. And last night we sat around and watched Toy Story on TV while we pitted six quarts of my very favorite sour cherries — and they are in the freezer now awaiting the first Cherry Pudding of the season.

Some of the recipes have been handed down for many generations. The Cherry Pudding recipe is in my grandmother’s handwriting, and I forced her to record it one summer while we were making the pudding in her kitchen in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Even after we moved to Georgia when I was six years old, we came back to Harrisonburg every summer, and one of the things I looked forward to most was the trip to the Hole-in-the-Wall where farmers came into town to sell their wares off the backs of their trucks in an alley with a “storefront.”

Nanna Mommy always knew when to expect the sour cherries. Then as now, they didn’t last long, and we would make the trip, return home and make the dessert immediately; she wasn’t any better at waiting than I. The dessert is actually not a pudding but a very dense cake with only a few ingredients and no technical challenges at all. The final product is very dense and designed to be covered in cream when served up, which immediately is absorbed by the cake, transforming the consistency into something more like a pudding that it was before. I was the oddball — I just ate it plain. You could eat more that way because with the cream it was just too rich. I may have been odd, but I was not stupid!

In all these years I have read countless cookbooks and many years’ worth of food magazines (all in my basement, but that’s another story) and numerous articles and books about the history of food in this country and around the world, and I have never seen this recipe anywhere else — even under another name. Where did it come from? Who made it the first time? Was anything other than sour cherries ever used as the fruit? And why is it called a pudding? The back story is no longer part of my family’s story, and the best I can hope for is that the recipe will keep moving through time, hopefully with my own granddaughter who watched us pitting those cherries. She now looks forward just as I did to helping make the Cherry Pudding with me in my own kitchen. And putting her own stamp on the legacy, she wants to make a cherry cobbler too.

But what may explain even better my family’s love of food throughout the seasons — and the anticipation that brings — is this story: Nanna Mommy’s kitchen was big and airy with 20-foot ceilings and glass-fronted cabinets that I would have needed a ladder to reach. There was a large round table in the middle with bentwood chairs that were always filled with aunts and uncles and neighbors and friends drinking coffee all day long, it seems to me now. One day I was there with my Dad and others and my grandfather came through the kitchen door with black raspberries from the Hole-in-the-Wall. We soon realized that he was at the stove making them up into a sauce, spooning sugar into a small pot and stirring away — still in his jacket and hat from his day at the office.

So it must run in the family — summer comes, the fruit comes in — you buy it or pick it yourself — and you cook it up right then and there. Life is fleeting, but even more so is the fruit!

See you at the market!