Sunday, September 6, 2009

Best Friends in the Kitchen

Last week I had the pleasure of going to Deep Cove (near Sidney) to the childhood home of my closest friend, Melanie. Mel’s parents still live in their beautiful, rambling house with lush gardens, an orchard, and quaint little outbuildings full of anything you could ever need., and the best kitchen ever.

I met Mel as a two year old. Our families lived near each other and our mothers thought we would be a good match. Apparently we were as we are still the best of friends today. I spent many a day and night at her house when we were growing up. I would sleep over at her house, or just come and hang out. The hours would pass in a whirl of rope swings, dolls houses, tree-houses, tree-climbing, bike-riding, and playing. There was never a lack of playing. Hide and seek? Spy on the neighbours? Play house? The seasons would often dictate what we could and couldn’t do. If it was summer, and we weren’t at the beach, we would sit on the roof of the shed and see how many plums we could shove in our mouths at once. In fall we would rake as many leaves as possible into a huge pile, climb up onto the gate of the fence where the rope swing would sit on its hook. Then we would swing ‘around the world’, as we called it, and fall into the pile. Then, giggling wildly and covered in bits of leaves, we would race back and do it all again. Winter would find us curled up in the living room as close to the wood stove as possible. This wood stove made a comforting noise – something between a hum and a hiss, and we could lie there for hours. By the time Spring came we were back outside and playing in the Laurel Bushes which seemed to us then like a huge jungle of tree-house possibilities.

And so when Zoë and I drove up to their house last week for a day of fruit picking and jam-making and canning, I was excited to show Zoë all the places where Mel and I spent so much of our childhood. But first we had some picking to do. We went out to the orchard and sent Zoe up a plum tree where she picked a huge bag of juicy yellow plums which promptly turned in to a bag of plum-mush. Then we filled a basket with purple plums and sampled some pears and prune plums. By the time we were done we had so much juice everywhere we were sticking to everything we touched.

Back at the kitchen, there were pears to be canned with a slice of lemon and pieces of ginger. Then we filled the jam pot with juicy yellow plums and sugar and put it on to boil. You know you can’t cook it for too long or it burns and then it’s no good. Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about? I have been known to burn a few things in my time and so it’s a good thing Mel’s mum, Susan, was there to keep us on track. It’s also a good thing that Silas, Mel’s 2yr old, saw fit to sleep through most of this canning exercise although he did wake up in time for the blackberries – more on that later.

So with several jars of pears cooling on the counter and a large pot of plum jam on the boil, we had some time to wander the property. I showed Zoe the shed roof, and then the outbuildings that I was always too scared to go in as a child. This may have had something to do with the fact that Ed, Mel’s dad, once told me that if I went too far into the big one, that I might never come out. He did not help the situation several years later when Mel had a sleep over and we all watched Friday the 13th: Jason’s Back Again for the 15th Time or whatever it was. At a very inopportune moment, the power to the house was suddenly cut. We all freaked out, crying and screaming, when a figure appeared outside in the gloom with what looked like an axe. Clearly it was Jason, from the movie, and he was coming out of the shed to murder us all. How could this be happening? When I watched those movies I would always yell at the characters not to be so stupid.  Like, Buddy, don’t go into the barn alone. Or, Yeah, that’s a good idea, just leave the sharpened lance right there beside the door where Jason will trip over it as he blunders around in his hockey mask looking for a weapon to impale you and all your friends on. Yeah, Good idea! Or, Dude, don’t just stand there, run away!

But since that night of terror, I have a new appreciation for why Jason’s victims just stand there in the face of their impending death as that’s pretty much what we all did that night. I remember just standing there, totally rooted to the spot, unable to think or move, I could only scream. Fortunately, before we all passed out from sheer terror, Susan intervened and the power was restored. But the damage was done and I can never look at the shed without feeling a bit nauseous. So apparently those Friday the 13th movies are an accurate portrayal of what really happens when a crazed nutbar is coming after you with a sharpened lance or axe or what have you. You can take it from me.

So needless to say we gave that particular shed a miss although I’m pleased to say that it is now the location for the extraction of some very delicious honey that Ed ‘makes’. We did find the Laurel Bushes although I was surprised to see that they had shrunk considerably since I was a kid. It’s funny but each time I go to their house the bushes have gotten much smaller. I mean, really, they seemed so much higher and more dangerous when I was a kid. Now they look like a mild-mannered garden-variety shrub that might entertain me for about 5 minutes. How does this happen?

Anyway. Back in the kitchen and the plum jam had passed the ‘wrinkle’ test, and been packed away in its jars. Another batch was on the way with the addition of some walnuts, and it was time to hit the blackberry bushes. Ed’s bees make a delicious honey from the blackberry blossom and so needless to say the blackberry patch is well-tended and overflowing with fruit. It was extremely satisfying to be able to fill a large bowl in a matter of minutes with huge juicy blackberries. I love picking blackberries but I really don't have time for the tiny little dried up things that you sometimes find around here. You could be out there for days and not fill your bowl with those lesser berries. But these ones were massive – as big as strawberries in some cases. We were also assisted in our efforts by Silas, who had finally woken up from his nap, and Zoe. I say assisted but really I mean that they, in their charming way, got in the way, and ate more than they put in their little cardboard cartons but what can you expect from a couple of kids. They were extremely cute while they did it so that helped. We also had a tour of some of Ed’s hives including the ‘observation hive’ which is made of glass allowing you to see the queen and all her drones and worker bees. I don't know why but it always makes me laugh when I hear that male bees are called ‘drones’. Anyhow…I digress.

Back to the kitchen again and the plum walnut jam was ready to go in its jars. We must have been distracted by something for a short period of time as it was only a matter minutes before Silas managed to get into the blackberries. He was soon covered in blackberry juice and looked like he had had a run-in with a bottle of ink. Either that or he was some kind of zombie that feeds on ball point pens. 

The blackberries went into the jam pot and on the boil which left us time for a cup of tea followed by a walk to ‘our beach’ otherwise known as Cromar Beach which is just down the hill from Susan’s house. We spent hours there as kids with, I might ad, little or no supervision. We would head down there in the morning returning only when our stomachs told us to come back for lunch and dinner. We had our favourite rocks and would play in the water and on the beach for hours at a time. Not much has changed and I was happy to see Zoë and Silas acting like it was now their beach. The only troubling thing about the trip to the beach was the ridiculous number of blackberries. I was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of huge ripe  berries weighing down the vines and felt the need to pick them all. I would stand staring up at 20lbs of blackberries just beyond my reach wondering how I could a) pick them and b) get them home. Like I was going to carry them in my shirt or something. It all became a bit silly. “This is a crime” I declared. “Someone needs to pick these. What a waste!” Then I started thinking about how this was just one corner of one street. Just think about all the blackberries going to waste all over the city, the Island, the province…It was mind-boggling. Call in the troops! “Come on- you can’t pick them all, Jane” said Mel. I reluctantly turned away from the bushes and we walked back up the hill.

It was time to go home so we packed up our pears and plums and jam and got a sticky hug and kiss from Silas. I apologized to Sue for the disaster site we had created. ‘You’ll be glad when we’re gone” I said. ‘Are you kidding?” said Sue. “I love having you girls here!”. Well I loved it too. What a treat that day was. My female gathering instincts were fulfilled for another season and the cupboards now have enough fruit to last until next year. And I have another batch of memories to last me until next time. There’s nothing quite like a best friend. Thanks for 37 years, Mel.







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Thanks for reading-



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