Day 1: Matthew’s Brandied Cherries

The liqueur had long been drunk and only the cherries remained, small wrinkled marbles the color of dried blood. The juice had leached out of the cherries to leave a thin wrap of slightly bitter fruit around the pit. In the early years after Matthew left I would occasionally eat a few, sprinkled over ice cream or dropped in a sauce for sautéed pork medallions. But they always reminded me too much of my life with Matthew.

Matthew didn’t cook. He mounted food productions. Complex, time-consuming projects he would He’d only make okra when he could find the tiny young pods that arrive in the markets at the very beginning of the season. He’d buy a kilo of okra and sit at the table the entire morning trimming the stem end of each pod into a perfect cone and then lay them on a baking sheet which he’d then sprinkle with vinegar and set out in the sun to coax out the mucilage. November marked the start of preparations for his annual Christmas fruitcake, which was launched with a trip to the spice shops in the old market district, now frequented only by pensioners, Arabs and cooks, to find candied orange and citron peel.

Julian Merrow-Smith, Still Life with Cup, Cherries and Apricot

Julian Merrow-Smith, Still Life with Cup, Cherries and Apricot

But the cherry liqueur was the biggest production, not because of the ingredients (there were only four) but because of the preparation time. After mixing equal parts of sugar and fruit and a handful of bitter almonds in large Mason jars, he’d leave them on the roof in the sun for the sugar to melt. Every couple of days he’d go up and shake the jars to better distribute the ingredients. He’d do this for two months before then adding the brandy that turned the slightly syrupy juice into a cordial.

Matthew’s forays into the kitchen were always big productions of a single dish, executed on a scale appropriate more for a hotel than for a home, which explains why I still had a half-gallon Mason jar of cherries in the cupboard. Matthew was a man of grand gestures that were intended, I suspect, to substitute for the more mundane but ultimately more substantive provision of daily care. His cherries and fruitcakes were like the extravagant gifts of a distant wealthy aunt who arrives at the house on Thanksgiving.

I emptied the cherries, resisting the temptation to eat one, more out of fear of being poisoned than from a desire to preserve unadulterated the memory of how they had tasted. I rinsed out the jar and carried it down to the recycling dumpster, into which someone had again unthinkingly emptied his garbage. The jar landed on a bed of rotting onion skins and melon rind.

I didn’t feel anything afterwards, nothing of the relief or sadness or sense of closure I had been anticipating. It may be that I’ve already so mourned the loss of the two lives I had with Matthew—the one I lived and the one I wanted to live—that all that is left are the small shriveled memories of our days together, leached of feeling and sustenance.

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