Friday, 21 February 2014

Food As A Time Machine

The home my father grew up in still stands on the corner lot at 1 Campbell Street. City maps from the 1870s show the home essentially the same as I remember it as a kid before the carriage house was removed.

The 'back yard' was a postage stamp of grass with the rest being a massive raspberry patch growing in a profuse tangle which my grandmother mined faithfully. Most pints of gathered treasure were sold to Brewer's Market for extra money but the berries were plentiful and there were a lot to be eaten in pies and as 'birds nest' and by bowl full after bowl full sprinkled with sugar and covered with milk. In winter there were raspberries in the freezer which were taken out for special occasions and turned into goodness.

There are many fond memories of fishing for tinker mackerel off the dock at Reid's shipyard and when there were enough for dinner returning to grandmother's house. She would call my parents to come for dinner and then she would head for the raspberry patch to gather dessert. Boiled potatoes, spinach, fried mackerel and fresh raspberries. A simple meal, perhaps, but far tastier than many I have had in 5 Star restaurants in the years since my youth.

Grandmother's raspberry patch had more red ants per square foot than any other place on earth. Fiery bites to ankles and shins and the accompanying scratches from the canes were the payment for the bounty. The raspberries were the reward.

My contention is that raspberries grown on the coast of Maine, fed with sun, rain, fog, salt in the air and even the eau de rotten fish wafting from the Cold Storage are richer and tastier than elsewhere but I cannot prove that.

The weather forecast here indicates we will be returning to 20 and 30 below zero weather again starting Sunday. It has been a harsh winter in the interior of British Columbia. We have no mackerel here or, at least, none that we will eat. West Coast mackerel are oily and tasteless. The salmon is fine, however, and plentiful although it just isn't mackerel. Raspberries can be grown even in our shortened summers but our patch has long since been dug up and turned to lawn.

Fresh raspberries in the market in summer are priced by the ounce like gold. That, perhaps, owing to their being so delicate. Most often a taste of raspberries comes from the frozen food section of the food conglomerate and is doubtless coated in pesticides and other chemicals. Still, it is raspberries.

Last night bowls of raspberries were liberally sugared and laid out to thaw and were eaten as breakfast this morning. I quickly discovered two things I hadn't known before.

Firstly, and most Mainers probably know this, Maine has a taste, at least summers do anyway, and durned if it doesn't taste like raspberries. Secondly, food can act as a time machine. This morning, eating those berries, I was transplanted back more than 50 years in time and 3000 miles away to a sunny Boothbay Harbor summer day. My grandmother was bustling around the kitchen. mackerel were sizzling in the cast iron frying pan and there were a bowl of strawberries on the counter.

Man, there are times I miss home so much. You can take the boy out of Maine but you can't take Maine out of the boy.

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