Monday, June 15, 2009

Super Mini Best of: Fraises des Bois

Walking up a forest path that wound its way up from a gorge and quickly enough arriving at some sunny open pasture land got me to thinking, during that week alone. Something about the way the land opens up above the tree line just sucks out the trivial thoughts and allows my mind to breathe. The incline, the one you work on before you arrive at the top is actually quite steep, but the path has been beaten in such a way that any reasonable person can handle it if they aren't in a hurry. One side of the path (the sunny side in the morning) runs along on your right side, sort of like one of those walls full of plants we see designed by artists in the city. The downhill side gives you the feeling you're surveying a kingdom of sorts. A dark deep world that plunges into the gorge to the river below, a chance to see the straight uprightness of the trees and contemplate their numbers. I have always been the sort to zoom in and find little microcosms along my way, when drawing, when writing, when observing. I think it comes from my love of miniatures. I love to study the varying flora, bathed in sun early in the morning.

The first time I climbed this hill, it was when we had some interesting early spring flowers. The fiddleheads were still tight little fists ready to either pinch off and pop into that day's salad or be left to unfurl like green versions of the lace panels you find dangling like icicles in the windows of Alpine chalets. There was a glorious mess of vines, pretty exotic looking yellow and blue spritzes of mountain blossoms of many kinds, lizards, and freshly melted source water babbling down the layers of folded crushed slate deposits. One pretty little flower that was easy to identify and seemed prolific was the wild strawberry, the fraise des bois.

I took out Loic's trusty Opinel and a little plastic sack that I had so level-headedly prepared in my pre-parental clarity for occasions such as these, and dug out two fraise des bois plants, which I transplanted directly into the crook underneath the cherry tree in the garden when I got back to the house. Over the weeks, I checked and weeded around them, hoping they would get enough sun. Lo and behold, last weekend, there were several ripe berries ready to be eaten.

I was terrible about it. It was late afternoon. I had been busy and unable to take a moment to myself for many days. Loic had brought some work home and wasn't able to help, and I was juggling the brave task of keeping the stove going and also working out the logistics of getting the baby's system perfected at the country house. I hadn't even had a moment to bathe. He decided to take a break to play with the baby - my chance to get some air! I headed straight out to the far end of the garden before either of them could call my name.

I looked, quickly gathered that these juicy buttons were prime for a harvest, and plucked off the ripe berries. I popped them down like they were magic pills and crushed them with my tongue. In that instant I finally was transported back to that frumpy bed in St. Petersburg, hit with a wave of exquisite memory from the exact beautiful flavor. Hey Loic! No on second thought, I better not say anything, because I didn't save any. Any at all.

Jump to this weekend when finally he was freed from the clutches of the national concours and we were able to go out walking as a family. We chose that particular forest walk because it is easy, and I also was pushing for it because of that lingering burst of flavor that kept springing up in my mind. I remembered thousands, but memories can be deceiving. At the bridge over the place where two streams meet, he first pointed to a bunch of ripe fraises des bois, and I brought out the sack. We worked our way up the hill. I am not exaggerating when I say we were both completely astounded at the harvest before us, it was like a wall of wild strawberries. We gathered and gathered, and with every few steps up, it was like we'd not even seen that the best was yet to come. By the time we got to the top of the hill, the sack was full.

Loic told me I was being unreasonable when I dug my hand in, slightly crushing some of the berries, to bring out a handful for each of the two horses that had been set in their pasture there at the top. I don't know. I think they enjoyed them, although now that I have tried to tame a baby, and thinking of their relative minds in my imagination, I cannot imagine that these horses will ever tell family stories about the silly lady with hair like straw who came and opened her palm full of fraise des bois that day. I think they forgot me about 5 minutes after we were gone.

We did two things with them. We put them in yogurt, and we made a coulis.

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Blogger Forest Green said...

I'd like to think that the horses did not forget you. If you went to visit them again, I'd bet that they remember the straw-haired girl. And they'll expect strawberries, too!

3:53 AM, June 19, 2009  
Blogger christine said...

Haha how sweet. That's what I love about you. You share your berries with horses ;)

10:24 AM, June 19, 2009  
Blogger SmitoniusAndSonata said...

That baby will have the best memories !

6:34 PM, June 19, 2009  
Blogger Melanie said...

lets trade lives. please.

5:33 AM, June 22, 2009  
Anonymous junglegirl said...

Wow, those berries look so very special compared to American berries...enjoy, enjoy!

8:36 AM, June 22, 2009  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thank you so much for coming by, everyone! I bet you can find some wild strawberries in the states, junglegirl.

2:12 PM, June 22, 2009  
Blogger Katie Zeller said...

Wild strawberries... What a wonderful treat! The last time I had them was in Paris - at an outrageous price!
Congratulations on your son.... He looks adorable!

8:47 PM, June 22, 2009  
Anonymous Erika said...

These looks delicious. I love this time of year. Received an interesting cookbook 'Cueillez c'est prêt' by Marianne Paquin, in which there is an entire section dedicated to wild strawberries including recipes for confiture, sorbet & coulis that you might like.

9:21 PM, June 23, 2009  
Blogger Stash said...

It's been monsoon season here in NYC. Consequently strawberries haven't been as good as years past.

Not a good year for local farmers so far.

9:31 PM, June 23, 2009  
Anonymous Koekkener said...

Hahahaha that was a very sweet and yummy berries. Thank you for posting.

11:42 AM, June 25, 2009  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Cool sounding book, Erika. Katie, they also have these for sale by the barquette in Lyon and I figure we saved a fortune by picking them ourselves. Sorry to hear the early summer fruits aren't too flavorful, Stash. Koekkener, thanks for stopping by.

9:08 PM, June 26, 2009  
Blogger Judith Klinger said...

Ciao Bella!
Sounds like family life is agreeing with you.
I have a small frais de bois plant on our back balcony and my morning routine is to go out and find 1 or 2 of the jewels to pop in my mouth. I don't know why but it seems like forbidden fruit. If there are enough, I'll share with my husband... if not, well, he should have gotten up earlier than me!
Now I'll think of you and the WALL of strawberries...and those lucky horses.

7:42 PM, July 23, 2009  

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