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The Fruits of Our Labor

There are few things more rewarding than growing fruit. Like so many of the good things in life, it’s a delayed gratification thing.

We planted our first trees the year I moved in. A friend got a dwarf plum and two dwarf apples at a plant sale and dropped the trees off in our driveway. The trees were tiny at the time—thin and spindly, with top leaves tickling my chin. We were told the trees wouldn’t fruit for a few years, and they didn’t. But now the plum branches reach over the shed roof and the apples tower over me.

We’ve added to our fruit producing stock, gradually. There are now raspberries—red, black, and golden—and an orchard of peaches and pears. There’s a strawberry patch and there are four blueberry bushes, and this year, for the first time, there will be figs.

This calls for some reflecting. At night we read to our daughter Sally from her Nikki McClure picture book To Market, To Market. We learn about Michael and his apples, how he traveled to old orchards to collect scions, small cuttings, from the best, most fruitful trees. We learn about grafting—wrapping scions and rootstock together with tape until the cutting grows onto the tree. We read about pruning and production, and we learn that if we want lots of fruit we want short, strong branches. We discover to pinch off fruit from trees that are loaded—to thin out the peaches so that we’ll get a few big fruits instead of lots of tiny ones that are all skin and pit and nothing juicy or sweet. We look at the pictures of the red, ripe apples, and daydream.

And then the day comes, finally. In the waning light of summer, we collect a bumper crop of plums and peaches, two pears, and six figs. We pick boxes and boxes of raspberries and blueberries. We test the early apples; some are tart, but some are ready.

The Fruits of Our Labor

And then, we eat. Anyone can make a fruit salad. But I like to think it takes something special to elevate a simple dish of cut fruit and make it celebratory. For me, it takes a Heidi Swanson recipe.

It’s not something I would make normally. It calls for a lot of fruits—figs and raspberries and grapes and nectarines. And it calls for fresh squeezed orange juice and mint and honey. The fruits sound expensive, and the dressing sounds fussy.

But for some reason, I try it anyway. I gather a cup of our raspberries and our six small figs. I take one homegrown pear and one sweet-tart apple off the windowsill, the ones I picked with Sally. I throw in two peaches and in place of the grapes, a pint of blueberries. I want to honor this fruit. I want to honor the waiting and the learning, the growing.

I dress it all with a big squeeze of orange juice. I pick a sprig of spearmint from the raspberry patch—the mint, like the raspberries, spreads like crazy. I get out a bottle of honey from bees at E & T Farms in West Barnstable, and I toss the fruit with this mixture slowly, gently.

As we eat, we talk about the bushes and the trees. We wonder what we’ve done to deserve this good fortune—we revel in the land and our possession of it, the fruit, the taste. And above all we savor the season, knowing that it will be another year before we harvest again.

RECIPE

FRUIT SALAD WITH MINT & HONEY

This is the kind of dish that’s perfect for a Sunday morning. You want to make it just before serving and be sure to toss gently—you don’t want the fruit to get bruised or squished.

  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 6 small fresh figs, quartered
  • 1 small apple, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 small pear, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 small peaches, pitted and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh spearmint
  • a drizzle of honey

Combine the raspberries, blueberries, figs, apple, pear, and peaches in a bowl. Pour the orange juice over top and then toss gently with the mint and honey. Serve at once.

About

Elspeth Hay lives in Wellfleet

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