Shavin: Getting meat, juice and joy out of plums and life

Shavin: Getting meat, juice and joy out of plums and life

July 21st, 2013 By Dana Shavin in Life Entertainment

I'm on my way home from Linda's produce stand, engaging in one of my favorite guilty pleasures: Eating just-bought fruit straight from the bag. I'm not even wiping it on my jeans first. I can't help myself.

This time it's red plums barely bigger than a gumball, sticky and warm and on the threshold of exactly ripe and over-the-hill. I'll probably die of pesticide poisoning, but at least it won't be an accident.

Some of the plums I pop into my mouth whole, but others I bite into and suck out the meat, collapsing the flesh in my fingers. I cannot do this without conjuring the moment in "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" when Annie Dillard sees a plump frog suddenly deflate, his innards sucked out by a water beetle. Granted, the image of the deflating frog takes something away from my enjoyment of the plums, but I manage to eat half the bag before I get home anyway.

I haven't had red plums this good since I bought my house in Chickamauga 20 years ago and the neighbor's trees were flush with them. That summer, my mother-in-law taught me how to make red plum jelly and I made so much my husband and I ate it and gave jars of it as gifts for two years. Had I known plum trees are finicky and I wouldn't see that kind of crop again, I'd have hidden our stash and feigned ignorance about jelly in general.

We don't have fruit trees at the new house but, knowing my husband, we're likely to have an orchard soon. During the last two summers in the old house, he grew a garden that was more like a fight. All I did was suggest that we weren't taking our land seriously, and that we (he) should extend the garden.

And extend he did. He added 30 square feet and planted every inch. Yellow and white corn, pattypan, crookneck and zucchini squash, red and green okra, English peas, rainbow chard, arugula, Thai, sweet, lemon and boxwood basil, cilantro, Black Krim, Pink Lady, Cherokee Purple, Roma, yellow and cherry tomatoes, Sicilian, Japanese, and Black Beauty eggplants -- if there was a vegetable or herb variety that did not get planted, it was only because sleeping and eating interfered, and there were times I had the sense that this annoyed him.

As a result of my husband's garden, I spent hundreds of sweaty hours in my kitchen, parboiling enough tomatoes and squash and chard for five winters of soups. I processed enough pesto to make Italy weep. And don't even talk to me about baba ganoush.

Everything went into the freezer. The first year, we lost it all to a winter power failure. Last year, we lost it in the move.

This summer, I've put my husband on a garden diet. We have two raised beds housing three tomato plants, two eggplant plants and a few pepper plants. There's basil, but it isn't doing well, and for this I almost find myself thankful.

I'm glad we had the huge garden. But I'm also glad we got it out of our systems. I'm reminded of the time my mother arrived home from the grocery store with a pound of flat, colorless fish. It was an unusual choice for a family content with its steady fare of fat steaks and pan-fried breaded veal cutlets. As I recall, she baked the fish, and it emerged from the oven still pale. We ate it, but nobody, including my mother, was happy about it.

"I'm glad we ate the fish tonight so we don't have to eat it tomorrow," she said.

Which was a funny way of saying that, while we can't know for sure what will bring us joy and what will bring us unhappiness, we can be glad when we've gotten something difficult behind us. Because even if we didn't know it was ahead of us, we know it isn't now.

So eat your dirty plums and get your fish over with today. Suck the meat out of life because, as I'm sure you know, life can surely suck the meat out of you.

Contact Dana Shavin at danalise@juno.com.