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" … transcendent scratch scars which will hopefully never heal."

Gooseberries might be fairly characterized as a bear or a bitch of a berry, depending upon one's vocabulary. I consider them near the top of my long list of culinary delights, for I find them evocative beyond their own spare attributes. A hard, tart, unpromising fruit, they grow on thorny bushes which make them a bear or a you-know-what to pick, and once picked, they demand much from any devotee. Each tiny sphere comes with a stem and a blossom end, both of which must be trimmed to do anything at all with them. My mom used her fingernails, much as The Muse does to accomplish this end. I, possessing blunt fingers, employ kitchen shears to snip off each offending appendage. This effort makes painstaking seem downright cavalier, as each quart seems to take a year or longer to properly barber.

Convenience foods offer both much more and much less than simple convenience.
One might happen upon cans of gooseberries, preserved in light syrup, and thereby sidestep the interminable prep time. One will certainly pay through the nose for this privilege which, like much privilege, probably isn't really worth the price, for those who try to sidestep the picky preparation ritual forfeit an essential element of gooseberry consumption, a step I'll call TheGooseberryMeditation. Many wild and fresh foods feature a meditation step, for preparing them for the table might seem hardly worth the effort, sheer inconvenience. Shelling then dutifully blanching Fava beans before painstakingly shelling them for use might seem like an utterly useless waste of precious time unless the kitchen bitch of the day recognizes what's really at play. A meditation ensues, a contemplative coma state which enables one to more than simply tolerate picky details while remaining scrupulous about properly completing each. Time assumes a wholly different meaning during the duration of these exercises, and it might well utterly disappear for the immersive period. It embodies letting go to let come, and sometimes becomes the real delight in engaging with these foods.

Gooseberries induce perhaps the Cadillac of such comas, for they must be the very most excruciatingly picky substance known to man. They range in size from buckshot to small marble, and some appear in clusters, each variation a potentially frustrating complication when preparing them. One starts by grabbing a small handful from a full basket, clumsily finger-juggling the buggers one by one into proper snipping aspect, inept handling losing a few to the floor. The snipping seems to take longer with each of the first few, and after fifteen minutes, trance not yet fully induced, progress seems unpromising. The basket might seem even fuller than when you started by then, and the colander content of the finished ones seems hardly a spare handful. The persistent monkey mind roughly calculates the time remaining before completion to be in the single digit eons, which seems a very, very long time away right then. One must simply begin again persistently, again and again.

Eventually time evaporates and a terribly pleasant sense takes its place, a presence unattainable by other means. Each new berry becomes exceptionally beautiful, an exemplar of greater things. Each seems a world, striped green and translucent, and even the tiny ones seem preternaturally precious. Briefly holding successive whole worlds, not in my hands, but with my clumsy fingertips, I feel transported. I no longer sense myself sitting on the shady deck with my lap slowing filling up with trimmed blossoms and stems, but suspended deeper within that space. I imagine my forebears sitting on their rough porches performing this same menial chore, enlivened to their cores. If I inherited one heritage, it might be this curious ability. When the peas are in, I revel in spending a late afternoon suspended in the wholly unique and enlivening PeaMeditation. I sort foraged mushrooms with the same transcendent passion. I similarly sort tomatoes.

The Muse came out and helped finish off that last third of a quart, sharing the so-called work, mostly in reverent silence. No stories need be recounted, no small talk need intrude, for TheGooseberryMeditation seems to include every amusement required to thrive. The GrandOtter couldn't quite believe that the resulting perfectly shorn spare quart had taken two Earth hours to prep, and The Muse will spend nearly that long again rolling pie dough and baking the finishing pastry. These little babies might seem the most unpromising of treats. Bite into a raw one and my teeth feel like sandpaper and a cloying greenness overwhelms my throat. I in that moment recall eating them fresh off the vicious backyard bush, rampaging around the neighborhood possessed by authentic monster's breath, then coming back for more. I warmly recall my mom making quick work of the berries I'd shredded my paws to pick, and the surprising sweetness of the thin-crust pies with which she'd pay me off. I learned a transcendent patience from that bush and satisfaction from the result of my otherwise unrewarding work. I might have touched God's stubbly face there, in that place, and carried away transcendent scratch scars which will hopefully never heal.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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