Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Picked Up from the Grapevine

Cora and Lulu, in Concord

One of the nicer biblical prophecies of the Peaceable Kingdom, from Micah, proclaims that “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid.”  I like to apply this thought to my pleasant state of retirement.  As a student of literature, I know the difference between the literal and the metaphoric.  Nonetheless I have tried on numerous occasions to cultivate my own fig tree.  They do grow around here, and I have even seen a few flourishing ones.  My friend and former GP, Genuino Nazzaro, who lives hardly half a mile from here, has one sufficiently fecund to supply me, from time to time, with a luscious compote whipped up by his wife Dina.  I, however, don’t seem to have the knack; over the years I have murdered, by slow torture, a small orchard of fig saplings.  I’ve done considerably better on the grapevine front, however.

            Our first abode in Princeton was in the high-rise Hibben Apartments nestled in the corner formed by Lake Carnegie and the railroad tracks.  This was one of two large boxes—the other being Magie—in which most of the junior faculty of the Princeton of the Sixties resided.  As there were nearly two hundred units, our numerous fellow apartment-dwellers included quite a few destined for academic fame.  We lived on the seventh floor at the top of the ventilation shaft that on the first floor passed through the apartment of the Giamattis.  Bart Giamatti would later become the President of Yale and later still the Commissioner of Baseball.  We used to pick up the aroma of the Giamattis’ cooking (mainly Italian) and the distant discontents of their baby, now the actor Paul Giamatti.   Quite apart from such olfactory brushes with greatness, some of our life-long friendships date from that era.

            Hibben and Magie were recently torn down.  On the lakeside site a whole little village of townhouses, now nearing completion, will replace them.  Buildings do come and go around here.  The Music Building was built, torn down, and magnificently replaced all during the continuing tenure of my 1990 Toyota!  Still, there goes yet another fugitive monument of material flemingiana.

            Sometime shortly after we moved out and into a real house, roughly in the middle of the Age of Aquarius, some apartment dwellers founded a large communal vegetable garden in the waste land beside the tracks.  Enthusiasm waned all too soon, alas, and it was abandoned.  About a decade later the garden site was bulldozed to make room for yet more cars.  Of course all this had been foretold by the prophetess Joni Mitchell: They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.  Knocking around this destruction site one day with one of my kids, we found that the dozer had savaged and broken up various rooted fragments of what must have been a substantial Concord grape vine.  We tossed a few into the back of the truck. 

            The rest is history, because two of these mangled uvial disjecta membra, when reverently buried in my garden, sprang into life the following spring.  They became the matriarchs of a veritable woodland vineyard surrounding my property.  I decided then and there that my gardening skills were probably better suited to a plant that could be cultivated by road grader than one so apparently temperamental as the fig.  Thus I bagged the idea of the fig tree, settling for multiple grapevines instead. One of the offspring of the original detritus now covers and softens my garden shed.  Another two vines, while I was not watching, climbed up large conifers, challenging them to mortal combat.  Several others, more carefully managed, have created a screen replacing three holly trees destroyed by a hurricane. 

            Now of course one hopes that a grapevine might produce grapes.  Mine have been pretty prolific, but in a wild and wasteful way.  The ones on the shed roof either get eaten by birds or shriveled against the hot roofing.  Most of the others dangle in clumps twenty or thirty feet above my head.   This year, however, things have been different.  The first of what I imagine as a rather elaborate network of bamboo trellises has supported and protected the grapes.  One of the huge old conifers, broken in half by the wind two years ago, has become a kind of volunteer trellis, with some of its grapes, at least, now in reach.

            Under these circumstances I invited the two resident granddaughters to help me with the harvest, and if they wished, to report, as guest bloguistas, on their activities.  On account of the generational trope, working with my granddaughters amid the vines was particularly satisfying for me.  If you think about the medieval artistic motif of the “Tree of Jesse,” the tree is after all really a vine.  Lulu is into poetry at the moment.  So she penned a postmodern effort that begins “Jeepers!  Jumping jars of jovial jam!”  Jesuitical jihadists!  This poem rather strays from the point in its attempt to preserve the rhythms of Piers Plowman; so I omit the rest.  However Bloguista Cora offers the following sober and accurate account in prose.

            Every summer, the grapes in Grandad’s front yard are ripe.  This year, there was the biggest amount of grapes growing that there had been for years (according to Grandad.)  One day, Grandad invited my sister and me to help pick the grapes and make grape jelly with him.  Of course, my sister and I agreed.  So that afternoon I was in the front yard with Grandad and a bucket in my hand.  Most of that afternoon we picked the grapes, removed them from their stems, and put them all in one big bucket.  After a search for his jelly strainer, Grandad got to work on making the famous grape jelly.

            After the jelly was finished we took a muffin, split it into three, and spread the butter and the homemade jelly on the muffin.  The three of us bit into our muffins in triumph.  The grape jelly was delicious, definitely a 5 star Jelly.  We made enough jelly to last us until Christmas but because it was delicious, I think it will probably only last about 11/2 weeks.
                                                                                         Cora Louise Fleming-Benite