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Fruits of my labors

Eons ago, I created my very first colored-pencil drawing. I did only a few pieces in the patience-demanding medium before I ran screaming back to my beloved watercolors.

But this week I posted that drawing of a juicy-looking nectarine on my Facebook page and posed two questions: "What's your favorite summer fruit? And how do you eat it?"

The first to reply was my friend Kathie. She, her hubby and their two parrots have been crisscrossing the U.S. in their motor home for the past few years. Great fun. But it's difficult to keep track of Kathie's precise whereabouts during her perpetual travels. They are currently somewhere in the Midwest. And I am happy to report they recently survived the region's record-setting hail storms.

Blueberries — in a bowl with a little sugar and half 'n' half — was Kathie's pick for favorite fruit.

Her answer made me think about my mom, and another friend, Cathy Pennington. I have a couple pints of Pennington Farms' fresh blueberries in my fridge. Perhaps I'll whip up a batch of Mom's special curried blueberries when I finish this column. It's a simple recipe: berries, sour cream, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and a pinch of curry powder. Delish.

"Sliced peaches!! What about you?" was the post from my beloved Cousin Jeanne. She and Cuzzin Pete live in San Luis Obispo.

It was my cousins' nudging — combined with considerable corporate prodding — that tipped me over the social-media edge. The last thing my ever-expanding fanny needs is another reason to sit in front of a computer screen, I insisted. But after resisting myriad Facebook invites for more than a year, I succumbed several months ago.

I must say the site has proven useful professionally. (Hello, Maslow Project! Need some shoes? Supplies?) And, on a personal note, while it's certainly not as good as face-to-face relating, one can touch base with family and friends on FB.

But enough of that. Let's get back to the fruit.

Cherries and watermelons received high marks from several folks. My big brother, a peaceful Puget Isle-dwelling fellow who has resisted the lure of Facebook, just now called for a voice-to-voice confab.

I told Dave the topic of the moment and asked, "What's your favorite fruit?"

"Watermelon, absolutely," he said. "I just bought one yesterday."

Bomp, our maternal grandfather, loved watermelon, too. (Oh stop. Like you don't have a grandparent forever stuck with a ridiculous nickname based on the first grandchild's babbling?)

Bomp, aka Arthur Freeman Dorn, was a wise old coot with a delicious sense of humor. He lived into his 90s and sprinkled his melons liberally with salt. Sodium warnings be damned. The man had a very free hand with that salt shaker. Some grains actually landed on the melon. Others went on the table. A lot went on the floor. I used to tease my mom that one could perform a dandy soft-shoe routine behind her dad's dinner chair.

Me? I like most all varieties of summer fruits. I particularly enjoy stone fruits. Northwesterner Cynthia Nims' "Stone Fruit" cookbook is a treasure trove of tasty recipes for cherries, nectarines, apricots, plums and peaches. From Lemon-Cherry Tea Bread to Seared Scallops With Caramelized Nectarines to Deep-Dish Peach Pie, the delights make me drool. The glorious watercolor illustrations by Don Barnett are a treat for the eye, as well.

But my favorite stone fruit is a plum-apricot hybrid called a pluot. Not those nasty, tasteless, hard-as-a-brick things you can buy in the grocery store. I'm talking about a perfectly ripe, still-warm-from-the-summer-sun magenta orb of ecstasy plucked gently from my very own tree.

Each summer since I moved to this riverside cottage in 2000, I'd wait in anxious anticipation for my very own pluots to reach the perfect stage of ripeness. Each day I'd check their progress in the branches of the tree lovingly selected — along with a grafted apple tree — as a housewarming gift by my now-sainted mother.

Then one tragic summer's day two years ago, I wandered out into my mini-orchard and saw that something was terribly amiss with my favorite tree. It was listing badly to starboard. Closer inspection showed the pluot tree had become a late-night victim of the buck-toothed marauder I'd dubbed Bucky B. Beaver. (Don't ask what the "B" stands for.)

My screams of anguish nearly split the eardrums of my visiting sis and her daughter. The dratted beaver had already chewed the apple tree to the stump, carrying its branches down my boat launch and out into the river. I'd taken pains to protect the pluot once I knew he was on the prowl, but my efforts had clearly proved unsuccessful.

My sis and niece left me to weep and wail over the water-rodent's pilfering. But they returned that afternoon with two little pluot saplings.

Hoping to keep my new trees safe from Bucky, I planted the replacements as far away from the river as my property line would allow.

This year brought a frost-laden spring, a hot, dry summer and more water woes to my little slice of pie. But this week I harvested the first tiny crop of pluots off the struggling trees. If the fruits were rather small in size, their flavor held huge promise.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

Fruits of my labors