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Creative Nonfiction

DADDY WAS A FORAGER AND MAMA WAS A CHEF DU JOUR

Susan W. Hudson

Blackberry Cobbler, Strawberry Pie, Persimmon Pudding, and Nut Roll – that’s the way I identified the seasons when I was a barefoot little girl in Piedmont North Carolina.  I had a ravenous sweet tooth and each season presented tasty treats that satiated it.

Daddy was an outdoors-kinda fellow.  When he was not working, he was out and about.  He often brought home treasures, and my resourceful and talented mama turned them into masterpieces.  In late spring, he came home with purple-stained lips and fingers toting a bucket full of plump, juicy, deep purple blackberries. 

Blackberry “thickets” were easy to find. Their small blossoms are bright white and highly contrast the brilliant greens of spring like a light sprinkling of snow. 

Mama clicked on her gas oven. It was just a low click, but we all heard it. She put the berries in a large bowl of cold water to clean them. She trekked to the pantry, quickly locating the flour and sugar. She fetched eggs, butter, and milk from the refrigerator. She put some butter into one of her big glass baking dishes and put it in the oven to melt the butter as the oven pre-heated. 

Mama sifted through the blackberries by hand and pulled out any that were still a little green, and any twigs or other debris that sometimes clung to wild berries.  She put the cleaned berries in a saucepan with some lemon juice, some sugar, and spices. She popped this onto a burner to boil.  

Mama combined the flour, some sugar, some baking powder, and a dash of salt and mixed them together. She stirred in the milk and poured this batter into the dish with the butter. She poured the cooked and cooled berry mixture over this. She shoved this deep into the heart of her oven.

“Abracadabra.” Within minutes the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg wafted throughout our house.  Our mouths watered as the pie called us to the kitchen.  Mama topped the steaming delicacy with a scoop of vanilla ice cream; this provided the cooling for which our mouths simply could not wait!

Though Daddy plowed up our back yard and planted a vegetable garden in the summer, we didn’t have room to grow strawberries.  He did, however, know the best places to find them.  He went to “pick-your-own” farms and came home with gallons of juicy strawberries.  I helped Mama cap, slice, and freeze most of them.  But, the best part was the fresh strawberry pies she made.

This was before the days of “Shoney’s-type” fresh strawberry pies and purchased pastry.  Mama gently blended flour, shortening, and buttermilk into a pastry and rolled out a thin flaky pie crust. She fitted it tenderly into a pie dish.  If I worried her enough, she would let me crimp the edges with a fork while she stirred together the eggs, milk, and sugar for the custard. A layer of hours-off-the-vine strawberries lies gently on the crust awaiting a dousing in Mama’s magic milk potion. Again, she turned matters over to her gas oven. Almost immediately, the delicious smells caught our attention. We all waited impatiently for our sweet fresh strawberry custard pie with the perfectly browned and crunchy crust.

Ah! Autumn!

Autumn has always been a conundrum for me. The breeze, cool to the skin, is a magical relief from the grueling heat and humidity of the summer. A brilliant sun pours in brightly as it is reflected against the beauty of the fiery colored leaves. Many birds chitter-chat loudly as they make plans for the coming winter. It still saddens me to know that, in order for the leaves to present their beautiful display, they must die, leaving the trees bare and cold for the winter. 

When Daddy foraged in the fall, he always brought home a bag full of persimmons.  They grow wild on scrawny little trees in the forest.  Daddy always told us not to pick them off the tree.  “They fall off when they’re ready,” he warned.  I was always one to challenge authority, so I decided once to pull one off the tree.  He was right.  “I told you it would turn your mouth plum inside out,” he laughed when he saw my disgust.  It was probably the sourest tasting thing in the world. But, when you wait and get them off the ground, just after the first frost of the season, and you take them to Mama, they make for a scrumptious treat.

My faithful, beleaguered Mama squeezed the pulp out of these tiny little fruits - not even as big as a ping pong ball.  They had one fair-sized seed, but the ripe fruit was mushy and the seeds just had to be pushed out. She would always make sure they were clean before she started, and eventually she would have enough pulp to make persimmon pudding.  She used most of the ingredients one would use for a pumpkin pie. The same fragrant spices filled our nostrils and our memories. She had her own secret ingredient for making this one-of-a-kind delight. It was always our favorite.

Winter brought a bounty of nuts.  Daddy foraged pecans and walnuts for Mama’s nut roll.  She added some exotics like Brazil nuts.  We had to buy these, and we had to shell them.  That was quite a job; the shells were so hard we had to use the hammer to crack them, but the white meat inside was worth it.

We cracked the nuts and picked the meat out of them, cut the red Maraschino cherries, crushed the graham crackers, and melted the marshmallows.  Mama added raisins to the mix. She put this luscious mixture together and formed it into logs (thus the term “roll”) and about as big around as a silver dollar.  She would dole these little jewels out, cut into slices all during the holidays.  This was Mama’s version of fruit cake, and it was never re-gifted.

Many seasons have come and gone since Daddy foraged and Mama made magic of his finds. Daddy died in November 1977, and Mama left us on Christmas Eve, 2010.  I still make all these seasonal treats, but, just like my daddy, the persimmon pudding of autumn will always remain my favorite.

October 16, 2020 18:04

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