Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Gooseberries waiting to be made into jam.
Pixwell gooseberries.

There are teeny green strawberries on this year's plants and the three year-old gooseberry shrubs are in full production. I planted the latter in honor of the main character in Chekhov's Gooseberries. I think that to rely on literary references for inspiration is a legitimate form of gardening. Chekhov himself was a gardener, as so many artists tend to be. At his home, in Melikhovo, he planted, in addition to roses, lilacs, firs and elms, he planted eighty apple trees and sixty cherry trees. Later, while living in Yalta, he wrote to his sister Maria,
"It is a sheer delight. I've planted twelve cherry trees, four pyramidal mulberries, two almonds, and a few others. They are good trees and will bear fruit."
My exiguous lot has no room for a fruit orchard. Even so, in the past couple of decades I have planted a self-pollinating cherry tree that fell victim to vile voles the very year it was supposed to fruit, an almond tree that died in infancy, countless raspberry bushes of which only three survived, half a dozen Nanjing cherries that feed dozens of birds and still have enough fruit left for my family and me, a quince tree whose abundant fruit rots prior to reaching maturity. On my sidewalk there is a mulberry tree that technically belongs to the municipality though in twenty five years no one but the birds has benefited from its watery fruit. Local gardeners tell me that mulberry juice yields a rather tasteless jelly, but I have yet to try it.

The stars of my fruit plantation are the gooseberries. That is cause for rejoicing since gooseberries are rare in my corner of the world. Some years ago jars of gooseberry in syrup made their way from Poland to the local Big Lots and I snapped up every jar practically before they hit the shelves. My best beloved, who are very keen on tart fruit feasted on gooseberry pie for days. Now that I have a modest amount of fresh fruit with which to experiment I think I will try making gooseberry curd. My family and I are discussing several of its possible use, should it be a success--as a topping for shortbread, as an accompaniment for scones, as filling for tartlets or pound cake, as topping for cheesecake.
The strawberry harvest is questionable. Bambi has been on the attack and by the time the fruit is ripe eastern box turtles and birds will compete to see who can eat the most. Dreams of strawberry short cake, pie, ice cream, strawberry Romanoff might remain nothing but dreams. Preserves are out of the question. At the most there will be enough fruit for a simple dessert. Gardening organically in an area relatively rich in wildlife has its price. The question of becoming gardening one's way into self-sufficiency becomes unanswerable. I have no intention of shooting Bambi nor the turtles and birds that gobble up so much in my garden. I can only continue to try to balance their needs with those of my family.

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