While the warmth of summer unfolds, I invariably find myself repeating my French father’s wartime food scavenging habits. Family karma asserts itself, and I find myself eagerly eyeing the raspberry and rhubarb plants edging the laneways while imagining tasty concoctions.
Our summer is so short that it seems shameful not to enjoy the season to the utmost. A summer stroll takes on more dimensions when you stop to pick food and mentally savour the fresh taste of your harvest. Knowing I’m getting much-needed exercise makes me feel virtuous. This virtuous feeling is further enhanced when I think of the copious quantities of vitamin C contained in both rhubarb and raspberries.
I am reminded of the civil law term “usufruct” which sprang from the Latin expression usus et fructus, meaning “use and enjoyment.” Contrary to the popular notion that property rights are absolute, ancient Romans recognized a legal right to profit from another’s property as long as the property is not damaged. Thus, if fruit extends from one property to another, a person can legally harvest the overhanging portion without damaging the tree. Asking the owner for permission to harvest is polite, but the request is not a legal obligation.
While I was growing up, my mother had two standard uses for rhubarb. The simplest use was to take a stem, dip it in sugar and happily munch away. Slightly more upscale was to stew the sliced stems with sugar, honey, and a lemon slice, remove the lemon slice, and let it cool. The resulting sauce was spread on toast or used as a topper for vanilla ice cream. Now, that’s a delicious memory!
As my culinary skills further developed, I began treating my friends and family to a scrumptious rhubarb custard pie. The pie crusts became real crowd pleasers when I learned to handle the pastry lightly, ensuring all ingredients and utensils were cold, and adding some raw egg to the mix.
Perfectly ripe raspberries with a small amount of sugar lightly folded in make for a delicious summer treat that won’t add to the heat of your kitchen during a hot summer day. A dollop of whipped cream flavoured with vanilla essence adds decadence.
Once the heat of the day has passed, I can steam up the kitchen by making a pot of raspberry jam and sealing the jars in a boiling water bath. If I’m in the mood for some pampering, I use the steam to enhance the effectiveness of face and hair masques. The heavenly smell and taste of a sumptuous oatmeal raspberry crisp is a fine reward before falling into bed.
Once in bed, my busy thoughts pause to feel grateful rather than allowing myself to drift in protected complacency. For here’s the difference between my father and I: Dad harvested food out of necessity while I do it for enjoyment. That’s truly something to appreciate.
Header image: Harvesting rhubarb or “pie plant” growing along back laneways complements a summer outing. Credit: Sam Wagar