When I was very young, no more than eight, but younger even than that, we used to visit my great grandaunt in South Carolina. I have very vague memories of a wizened old lady, her back bent and her arms thin. A knob of thinning greyish hair at the back of her head. What I do remember of my great grandaunt’s house were the family reunions we used to have there. Fat men in metal lawn chairs testing gravity and the strength of those metal legs. Women commenting on me and my sisters and brother. The sandy ground and red fire ants. The trees and a small white house in the shade. And the food. Tables full of it. Banana pudding, with meringue topping, circled by ‘Nila wafers, hot and soggy and tasting of baked bananas. Chicken of course, because we were in South Carolina. Deviled eggs sprinkled with paprika. Green beans floating in ham flavored juices. I know there was a lot more but I don’t remember it. And also my memories were taken up by the prodigious size of my great aunts and uncles and old cousins and the age of them, and how best to avoid their fleshy, papery fingers clutching my arm to see how much I’d grown. And because it’s filled up with the plum tree too.
By the side of my great grandaunt’s house was a plum tree. The plums would drop to the ground when they got too ripe, turning into sticky split fruit, dark on the outside and a pulpy, yellow-green inside. They attracted their fair share of ants and bees. But I thought the spilt fruit was fascinating. It was my first indication that food grew somewhere. And sometimes my great grandaunt, or mother would pluck fruit that had not yet fallen and let us children eat it. They were small plums, filled with tart sweetness, making our mouths pucker for a second, but then turning sweet. I’d suck on the pit until I got all the flavor out of it.
On Sunday I went to a farmer’s market near my apartment with my sister and a friend. We found lots of great fruit and veggies there, and made a peach-blueberry cobbler. But what I loved most were the small, dark, cool plums I found. They taste as though they had just come from my great grandaunts tree. Full of tart sweetness and sticky juice, the same that used to run down my chin.
This Saturday I used the remaining three plums to make a sweet plum sauce. Not what you’d find accompanying your Moo Shi pork, but a sweet plum sauce to be spooned over roast chicken. The color and tartness of cranberry sauce with the sun warmed sweetness of something even better, my mother raved and called over the neighbors. Pretty good reaction for something I thought of in a dream.