Thursday, August 26, 2010

Up High - Les Myrtilles Sauvages

A retreat. Long slow walks disconnected from the hum of anything. Cool air punctuating grey-blue stone and moving the greenery, we stand still in the Alps. A great way to allow things to gel and mix in the mind. Old fashioned pages coming out double spaced and indented, spending time allowing the mind's eye to wander instead of shining like a spot on what comes next. Edits, reflection on how to improve, work on technical issues I have been saving for a rainy day, these things all come into play during a retreat. That, and I read four books.

Last year, when the baby was about 6 months old, we packed him into the backpack carrier, and headed out for a promenade. On the trail that day, I wanted to take the hard slope. Something inside me yearned to climb something steep. I had some things to think about. One was this fear, fear about motherhood I could not seem to shake. It made me feel like an ingrate. I had lost this fleeting dream over years with many losses. Then we quietly plodded through nearly 5 years of files and scrutiny and dreams of being adoptive parents, and now we had our perfect beautiful son, and here it came, this crazy fear of being a mother. What was wrong with me?

It took hours, but we made it. When we finally broke through the tree line, we turned by a kind of accident and found ourselves circling the edge of a sunny shelf. It began with summer yellowed knee-high grass that quickly turned into a forest of low bushes, a thick wild blueberry patch positioned just so under the sun.

We'd spent a long time climbing already and it was time to feed the baby. We needed a place to sit. The wild blueberries growing in this patch were the plumpest and darkest I had ever seen, though. They left stains on my legs. They hung like grapes from the vine they were so thickly covering each bush. Squeezing one, it spurted startling blood red juice. I had never tasted a more flavorful berry. We had to turn away from this place, but I made an inner vow to myself to return.

Throughout the coming seasons, I anticipated going back. A lush wild blueberry patch borne of inspired labor took mythical proportions in my mind. It slowly transformed into a mission. One whole year went by, one year to ripen. While we planned for our mountain guests this summer, I was transfixed by the idea of these blueberries. I wondered how to convince my visiting friends and their children to take that hard uphill trail. If we took little steps, walking ever so slow to reach the top? If we stopped for dozens of water breaks? If I told a long story along the way? How long would it take with children? I wanted so badly to tackle it again. But no matter how I turned it around in my mind, I knew that it was just not a good idea to spring such a hard walk on unsuspecting guests.

Our first guests came and we headed out on an easy excursion to give them a sweet taste of Alpine promenades. We had chosen one that began high and wrapped along the edges and twisted around corners to reveal panoramic vistas, where every footstep counts. One where we could start out at a good altitude to give them a sample of the unique flora and open sky that higher hiking can provide without too much of the hardship of constant climbing. The kind of well worn paths that entice at every turn. At one point, we ran into a couple that was bent down gathering something. The woman had a pail and a curious contraption, a little rake. Were there blueberries? You betcha! Not so plentiful, not so plump, but blueberries nonetheless.

The next time we took that hike with my old childhood friend and her two girls, the children were equipped with pails and a rake of their own. After a picnic lunch, they went off the path, scrambling up the sunny side with their extraordinary energy, up perilously steep inclines to reach yet another blueberry bush. We called after them to slow down, to be careful, but they wouldn't listen, and we eventually all followed them.

We reached a grassy plateau. I let the baby walk, a corner of my scarf tied around his chest to make sure he didn't dash off in the wrong direction. He toddled on the flat ground, laughing along the way, proud of himself for hiking. I found myself turning, searching the horizon. Looking along the crests, naming them by their village nicknames, looking for the crook along jagged cat's tooth where I knew the berries I'd been dreaming of grew.

We had a game. "One, two, three... Fly!" I lifted him up above my head and he spread his arms wide and arched his back, seemingly above the mountain horizon. I made the low whistle of a high wind while he floated in my hands, and he reached out to the sky. My heart whisked us together to the mythical blueberry patch. There we were on top of the world. I laughed when I realized it, the fear is gone.

The children and my friend had made good progress. One pail was nearly half way full. This is plenty. We will make a tarte aux myrtilles, I tell them.

Recipe: Kitchen Table Tarte aux Myrtilles

1 batch of your favorite pâte brisée
Enough wild blueberries to cover the bottom or as much to fill a pie tin
3/4 to 1 1/2 cups white sugar
a medium to hot oven

A French kitchen table tarte is one that has no precise measurements. You can make this kind of tarte with any berry or fruit you have. It consists of fruit, sugar, and pie crust, very simple.

Sort the wild blueberries, to remove any sticks or twigs or unripe berries. Wash the good ones thoroughly and let them dry. Taste the berries to see how much they need to be sweetened. Roll the prepared dough out to cover the bottom and sides of the pie tin and pierce the bottom with a fork. Fill it with fruit, even a thin layer will do. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the top and bake it for 20-30 minutes, until the sugar and berries bubble, and the pastry is golden brown. If you've got a lot of blueberries and want make a thicker deeper tarte, you can use the kind of sugar that has apple pectin added, the kind they sell to make jams with. That way, when the tarte cools down the filling is less runny. Cook it in a cooler oven, for twice the time, the first 45 minutes covered with tin foil to keep the crust from burning. When it's bubbling all the way to the middle, take the foil off and raise the temperature in the oven to brown it.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

A most beautiful post. We are plodding (wading) at present so this is just what I needed; tart and story.

8:09 PM, August 27, 2010  
Blogger janetmow said...

What a wonderful story about reflecting, reading, and creating new memories. The second time you do something is never the same as the first -- but sometimes it's even better.

6:37 PM, August 28, 2010  
Anonymous Gadia said...

beautiful moving writing. you capture that feeling of utter release when one realizes the fear is suddenly no longer there. beautiful cooking. you are a gifted storyteller as well as cook.

7:45 PM, August 29, 2010  
Blogger racheld said...

Lucy, this is your most evocative, most memorable post of all, I think. I want to link it, to copy it, to HAVE it for my own in my journal, to read again and again. It is everything you've ever promised to write, and more.

We all feel all these feelings, but you have put them perfectly upon the page, with all their trembles and exaltations. I, too, flew with Ian upon the high horizon, and I also held him aloft in the sun.

Just lovely. Thank you.


9:51 PM, August 30, 2010  
Blogger L Vanel said...

I feel very honored to have such wonderful comments from the four of you. Thank you.

10:13 PM, August 30, 2010  
Blogger Katie Zeller said...

There is something about walking in the mountains that seems to both bring out and calm the fears. Very well written, I could feel it all.
And kudos on the myrtilles!

9:42 PM, August 31, 2010  
Anonymous Ka said...

the traditional recipe would have some butter cubes to go with the sugar on top...

5:26 PM, September 01, 2010  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Butter sounds like it might be nice. Not at my house, though, not for wild blueberries. But then again these things are really up to you.

5:40 PM, September 01, 2010  
Blogger Eta~ said...

Lucy, I love that photo of the garden and your dear ones! How amazingly full bloom it is and they are. Lush is the word that comes to mind with a bit of unruly thrown in.

10:00 PM, September 18, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember the blog from last year. It fills my heart to hear the sweetness of the berries and the sweetness of motherhood, given a little time and a little heat, bursting forth into something that brings such satisfaction joy. You are right. There are no precise measurements for this recipe.

Love you!

10:56 PM, October 21, 2010  

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