Vermont summers are fierce and semi-tropical. Not in temperature or humidity, but in explosive plant growth. The growing season is short. Everything that grows here is intent on getting as big as it can as quickly as it can. The fields and forests burst with green. Grape vines climb the maple trees. Morning glories slither their way into the wisteria branches. Honeysuckle and raspberry bushes grow thick and impenetrable. Corn grows eight feet high.
It’s beautiful, but in a somewhat claustrophobic way.
We’ve always laughed at the scene near the end of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Castle in the Sky, where the villain, Muska, pursues the heroine, Sheeta, and her magic crystal into the throne room of the eponymous castle. The castle is a ruin, inhabited only by a robot and centuries of plant growth. Muska, on entering the room, chasing Sheeta, desperately needing to get his hands on that crystal, pauses, looks around the the room in disgust and says something like, “Ugh. These PLANTS!”
I’ve heard M think that same thought on many a July day as he looks across the yard and see the vines strangling the apple trees and the lawn he just mowed visibly growing.
It’s enough to make you wish for a flame thrower.
You have to admire the peace of a day like today. We’re at the top of the roller coaster’s hill, at the far end of a pendulum’s swing. Everything is clean, shorn, stacked, coiled, compact, tucked in for the winter. If anything’s growing, it’s growing inward, downward.
This morning I pulled the grass from around the bases of the blueberry bushes and spread fresh pine mulch around them. I sat in the dry grass and pushed the mulch around while the dog sniffed around for leftover blueberries (wishful thinking, oh silly dog). I had this song in my head the whole time. I felt short and small, like a plant rooted to the land, ready to be steady, firm, and quiet.
Awhile back, my friend (fellow BBA challenger and all around great cook and baker), Phyl suggested that several of us do an ice cream week: post a different ice cream recipe each day for five days, beginning this Monday. Which sounded great, until I realized that….
Today is Tuesday! Where has the week gone?! I’m late!
Wait. Relax, Rebecca. It’s summer. Things are allowed to be just a little late. Right?
Okay, so today is my Monday and the official start of my ice cream week. If I feel ambitious, maybe I’ll give you two recipes in one day and get myself back on track.
Today’s—er, Monday’s—theme is Summer Fruit, and my recipe is a riff off of the delicious strawberry-buttermilk ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home (if you want to make ice cream, you definitely need to get your hands on a copy of Jeni’s book). Note that fellow ice cream churner Abby chose to make the strawberry version, so if you’re interested in making that one, check out her post (see below).
The method for making this ice cream is all Jeni’s, so if you’re familiar with her technique, you’re already most of the way there. My only real changes were to use blueberries (and lots of ’em), and to roast them longer than the original recipe called for. If you use a pint of blueberries (fresh, if you can get them), you might end up with a bit more puree than you’ll need for the ice cream, but that’s okay. It makes a very nice sauce to drizzle on your scoop.
Mom would have been 68 today. To celebrate, I took her blueberry picking.
We had a little birthday party at the berry patch, me and mom.
I wonder what the other pickers thought of my talking to the ghost of my mother. There were families there, mothers with small children, a few teenagers, a few people alone, just like me. I bet some of them were talking to ghosts as well.
But I bet they weren’t having a birthday party.
I caught her up on what’s happening in our lives. I told her how tall Hyla is (not yet the seven feet that Mom predicted, but closing in). I told her we finally painted the downstairs bathroom. That the yellow rose bush I planted for her died. How greedy the goats are for ‘Nilla wafers. I told her about the summer of drama camps, the trip to Maine, the plans for visiting family in Michigan and Toronto.
She was happy about the Toronto trip and, when I told her we might go to the CNE, she said she wished she could come. I said she’d be there, too.
When I told her how much fudge and how many lobsters we ate in Maine, she smiled that crinkly-blue-eyed smile of hers. The blue she inherited from her father, Harry. The blue she passed on to her daughters.
She loves lobsters. And, it turns out, chocolate fudge.
Not always, though. She used to shun chocolate. When we’d go for ice cream as a family, the only flavor she thought worth getting was vanilla. We, with chocolate smudges circling our mouths, were utterly confused by her choice. How could she not like chocolate?
Later, she came to appreciate chocolate more. When I grew up, I learned to understand why she loved vanilla best.
I told her about the bar mitzvah we went to last weekend, how the prayers and the songs and the rituals conjured up my ghosts: mom, grandma, grandpa. We laughed about those old bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings, with the horrible gowns and hair-dos, the huge rented halls, the mediocre bands, the rubber-chicken dinners, the dancing late into the night.
I kidded her about her own funny dance, hands in loose fists at chest-level, thumbs out, arms jerking to each side, one after the other, doing some sort of hitch-hiker-inspired move. She obliged me by doing the dance right there in the blueberry patch.
I laughed, blushed. Mom, stop! It’s so embarrassing!
I got a bit wistful. I told her there were so many things I wanted Hyla to know about her.
Well, then, tell her.
So I will.
I’ll tell her about your smile.
Your forgetfulness (I didn’t understand then; I do now).
Your made-up words.
Your white lies to make others feel happy and included (I didn’t understand then; I do now).
The kindnesses you do for everyone around you.
The way you’re really interested in the answer when you ask someone a question.
Your less-than-successful cooking attempts (including “surprise-hamburgers”, “baked spaghetti”, and the time you washed that really bad mango-peach sauce off the chicken).
That you can’t whistle, or snap your fingers.
I’ll tell her about the things you love.
Your Florida home.
Your collection of kaleidoscopes.
All animals, but, in particular, horses, dogs, giraffes, and, later in life, the tropical birds and lizards that visited your back porch.
Everything about Mexico.
Central American art.
Traveling the world with Dad.
Reading (especially novels by Canadian authors).
Drinking coffee (gallons of it, especially when you worked from home).
Reunions with family in Toronto. Huge orders of Chinese food eaten buffet-style in the house at 29 Regina. Kids hiding under the dining room table. Grownups wandering the rooms with paper plates in hand, telling the same old stories, some that made us laugh, some that made us cringe.
I’ll tell her how about the music you love.
The Everly Brothers.
New country music (Mom, I don’t understand that one, but I totally forgive you).
I’ll tell her about how much you love your granddaughter, your son-in-law, your brothers, your cousins, your grand-dogs, your grand-cats (and, had you known them in person, your grand-goats).
I’ll tell her (again) how you never wanted a birthday cake on your birthday. Only blueberry pie. Without the ice cream.
Holly holy love
Take the lonely child
And the seed
Let it be filled with tomorrow
Sing a song
Sing a song of songs
Sing it out
Sing it strong
Call the sun in the dead of the night
And the sun’s gonna rise in the sky
Touch a man who can’t walk upright
And that lame man, he’s gonna fly
And I fly, yeah
And I fly