There are wild raspberries here along the river in Naples, New York. They stand quiet and unseen around the underbrush.
It takes a special wisdom to notice them. I regret to say, I don’t always carry that wisdom.
Although today, I did discover the raspberry bushes in the rectory yard of St. Januarius Catholic Church where I am staying. I was not about to let the fruit die on the vine. I woke briskly from a nap, headed down the stairs and straight out the door, only pausing five seconds to grab a bowl in the dish-drying rack. One by one I pulled the ripe berries off the bush. I took the ones that gave way under my hands, and left those that still clung.
I believe vines, bushes and trees must be pruned and tended. Without this care, the fruit looses its flavor, grows disease and becomes choked by outside things. As a fruit ripens, though, you cannot force it to bare itself. You cannot force its color and texture. You cannot force it to ripen. Only the fruit that gives itself to you willingly will taste the best in your mouth. If you force fruit off their nests, bitterness will be your lot.
This is a small village, Naples. Population 1,072 (2400 with surrounding townships). It sits at the base of Canandaigua Lake. Originally coined by settlers as “Township No. 7,” it consisted of 21,120 acres and was purchased for twelve cents an acre.
The first settler was a man named Samuel Parish. He came with a wife and two sons from Berkshire, MA in the dead of winter. They used what they had, built what they needed and befriended the Natives. Soon, more arrived, yet… what was it like for Samuel to be willing to be the first? Was the moment of decision full of imagination and dream, with the mind safe in pockets of unyielding hope? Or, was it like when I stood in the garden staring at ripe raspberries—all practical in its “waste not, want not” strategy?
They say that when Samuel Parish arrived in Naples, there was only the wild plum, but now here amid The FIngerlakes, there is a great bounty of fruit. I have not held back in my need to partake in all the various types: strawberries, raspberries, concord grapes. These beauties will not be back fresh in the jar or on the plate for another year. I firmly believe in “Carpe Diem,” which for me began in another fruitful place: Bordeaux, France.
Years ago when I was in Saint Emilion, I was mesmerized by the life of the vine. I learned how the vine’s roots have a bit of acid at their tips to break through rock and reach water. I had just lost a business and was trying to find a new path. I wondered if life had lent me a bit of acid to render me a personal breakthrough. At least I was being hopeful.
At the end of a wine tour, they gathered us under a large cherry tree fully dripping with ripe fruit. I immediately reached up to grab a duet of cherries and was stopped. The person I was with said, “Those aren’t yours. Be respectful.” I felt shamed and angry. Why would they lead us under a fully ripened cherry tree, if we were not meant to partake in the fruit? That would be cruel wouldn’t it? I was in a moment—one of those moments where everything was aligned and beautiful and existing for joy. They’re so incredibly rare these moments and it seemed stolen.
I relented and sat on the grass, trying to listen to the wine maker give his final comments. Sadly, I had a hard time opening my ears. At the end he said, “Oh, yes, before I finish and let you go: Please feel free to eat some cherries. It would be a shame to let them go to waste.”
Having been scolded, I didn’t leap up immediately. I had allowed admonishing words to censor my spirit, and now I reached for them slowly, savoring them in my mouth. They were wonderful, but not as sweet as if I had listened to my heart and taken them when the tree itself was yielding them to me in a moment of sheer grace.
I vowed to myself to never hesitate on a moment that I knew was a fleeting blessing.
Maybe it is not so coincidental to be placed in a small village like Naples and in a region where fruit is key. It’s what I’ve longed for most, to bear fruit—not to just bear fruit spiritually and learn to be a good person with love and patience and forgiveness, but to see fruit in my human life. Isn’t that what we all want? To know that the work you put in, in due time, produces its fruit?
I have questioned whether this is pure ego—this need to see fruition. But then, I look around me to my brothers, the trees, to our mother earth, and the fruit on her vines, and I say, no. This is human. This is what we are built to do. These vines, these trees are the examples to follow.
There is no impatience in a tree. It grows at the speed it grows. It sees one season after the next with roots seeking what it needs without apology. The leaves and fruit come and go each season. If you asked a tree, “Will it ever come? My fruit?” The tree would say,
“Of course it will. Fruit will come. Some fruit may be stolen. Some will be wasted. You will have to put up all your defenses from disease and vampiric insects. Winds and winter snow may break your limbs. One of your roots may be cut off from you. But yes, young one, it will come.”
I hope I have the wisdom to recognize the fruit when it arrives.
—Elise McMullen-Ciotti a.k.a. The Galavant Girl
Where is Naples, NY?
Naples, NY, can be found at the base of Canandaigua Lake off of New York Highway 21. It is about an hour from Rochester. It sports the Naples Grape Festival each year with thousands upon thousands descending upon its tranquility. Outside of festival time, you may blink and miss it. I suggest you do not. Google Map of Naples, NY
Strawberry Compote Recipe
I made Strawberry Compote, after buying some fresh strawberries from an honor-system stand on the side of the road. It can be made with any berry. I’ve included the recipe here in its smallest serving size.
1 pint of ripe strawberries
2 tsp of cane sugar
Tiny tiny pinch of salt
¼ cup of water
Any aromatic of your choice such as cinnamon, vanilla, balsamic, nutmeg, red wine (or just make it bare and beautiful)
Place the sugar, fruit, water and any aromatics into a tall narrow pot on the stove at medium to medium-high heat. Cook and stir ingredients until fruit has become soft and in pieces. It should create its own sauce. Cook off the water, and when you can pass your finger along the back of a spoon, and in so doing, leaves a clean mark without running, it is finished (about 8-10 minutes).
Serving warm: Add a tsp of butter and let it melt and stir. Serve this warm compote in a ceramic serving dish straight to the table.
Serving chilled: Leave out the butter. Place in a jar or any sealed container (just not cheap plastic) and allow it to cool completely in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Makes a great breakfast fruit-spread.
As a fruit-butter: If brought to room temperature, you can blend it with softened room temperature butter, using an electric mixer, making a fruit-butter. You can make it as fruity or buttery as you like, just remember that unsalted butter is best and that this mixture must be blended well without melting the butter. If the butter is melted, it will not mix properly with the fruit and will separate while chilling in the fridge—a result that will not be the creamy desire you wish.
Raspberry photo from an amazing Japanese photographer Mwri, living in Kangasala, Suomi (Finland). To see her work go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/karviainen/sets/
Cherry tree photo by Dan Shalloe. He is an amazing English photographer living in Vienna. You can find his work here: www.danshalloe.com/Home.html