I wanted to write a lovely post about strawberries. I wanted to talk about how strawberries, warm from some idyllic strawberry patch, bring me back to my childhood. I wanted to tell you a “Strawberries for Brandy” version of the children’s story “Blueberries for Sal” (but perhaps without the bear).
Alas. That was not my childhood. I don’t have many warm and fuzzy memories of food (although I did love working with my stepdad in the garden). Instead, I have memories of picking through my food. Of smashing everything flat on my plate so I could more easily drag my fork across stray onions and peppers, pulling them to the edge of the plate to grow cold and slimy. Of building carefully constructed motes between my mashed potatoes and meatloaf so they wouldn’t touch. Of realizing the delicious bread I had been eating had been contaminated with zucchini–and the thick throat and eye watering that comes just before throwing up the offending food.
I honestly don’t know how my mom did it. She had to chop vegetables more fine than even the most trained chef to hide them in sauces and soups. She watched without comment while I rinsed off my plate between every food item so I wouldn’t cross-contaminate them. And she waited, patiently, while I ate my fruit loops, one color at a time.
It would take a long time before food was something I would truly enjoy. I was in college when I first ate hot mushroom soup, chasing little round croutons across the surface with my spoon. I was working at my first job when I had jerk chicken, spicy and charred, scooped on a fork with rice. I’ve eaten Indian food with curry-stained fingers and Ethiopian food balanced carefully on tangy injera.
I think much of my pickyness as a child resulted from a desire for control. There was so much I couldn’t control–but food was easy to spit out, to hide under a napkin. Perhaps, as an adult, those illusions of control have dimmed. That desire to deny myself the good things, full of flavor and heat and complexity, have diminished.
So, I may not have a “Strawberries for Brandy” story from my childhood. But I have the adult version. Of sweet strawberries mixed with tangy rhubarb. Of strawberries nestled in orange scented cake, sprinkled with sugar and baked into little pockets of jam. I have found a way to taste and see. And it is good.