The memory is of my grandmother, dropping a frozen strawberry into a glass of white wine.
Or maybe it was champagne.
Whichever it was it was filled to the brim and she drank it to the bottom, devouring the berry, laughing, alongside my Bompa, who drank -- did he have a glass of the same, or was it one of his martinis? Carefully created, as my father recently reminded me, by gently stirring the gin ("so as not to bruise it") and pouring it into a martini glass that had been prepared with a twist of lemon, expressed around the lip. If there was vermouth at all it was a trace of vapour only, released when he passed the open bottle over the glass like a priest blessing the saved with his smoky incensor.
They drank theirs while I had my root beer float and we watched the Sound of Music curled up on their davenport. (There were no couches in my grandmother's house, but there were three davenports.) When the credits rolled my grandmother sang "Climb Every Mountain", lustily smiling through her song, knowing every word, hitting every note.
They said it would come like this: memories welling up from the dark earth long after it was carefully tamped down. This one was triggered as I tore through the index of Ginette Mathiot's classic I Know How to Cook, recently released in translation by Phaidon, and spotted the strawberry recipe. I was looking for ways to prepare the abundance of celeriac (p. 523), turnips (p. 559), carrots (p. 520) and squash (no squash. squab. but no squash) that I've acquired from my winter CSA share.
I'm pretty sure this is a cry I've been cradling in reserve ever since we drove the distance this last week to Omaha and I stepped into Mr. Hoo's dying grandmother's room, turned off the fierce fluorescent over her head and pulled open the curtains to allow the morning light into the room.
I was startled by the hydrangea bush that stood in the sunlight just beyond the glass: dried, brown, done. Close kin to the blue bush that bloomed bright outside my grandmother's window this last summer, while she made her last ascent.
Strawberries Marinated in Wine
fraises au jus
Scant 4 1/4 cups strawberries
Superfine sugar to taste
1/2 bottle red wine, maraschino liqueur or Champagne, chilled
Prepare several hours in advance. Wash, drain and trim the strawberries and place in a bowl. Add sugar to taste and just cover the fruit with wine, maraschino liqueur or Champagne. Macerate in the refrigerator for several hours before serving.