The Food That Makes Life Worth Living

This might sound crazy, but a six-pack of local berries and cherries saved me from falling off the deep end this weekend.

Summer fruit bonanza: (Clockwise from top left) Blackberries, sweet cherries, blueberries and raspberries. (Kim O'Donnel)

Saturday morning, I queued up in a line about 50 deep at my neighborhood farm market for my fix of summer fruit from a Virginia berry farm. Strawberries had been gracing the stand for the past four weeks, and I was hoping I might see the first batch of blueberries. Little did I realize I'd get treated to a whopper berry bonanza -- the blues, plus blackberries and raspberries -- and an extra bonus of sweet cherries. In awe of my discovery, I stared at the rows of fruit in their pint containers, bursting in shades of indigo and lipstick that every girl dreams about. The air was heavy with their perfume, and I swear, those berries were talking to me, begging for me to buy not just one pint but six.

Twenty-eight dollars later, I walked away with my tray of fruit, and my heart was racing, my eyes filling with tears. Here's why:

Every second of every minute, every hour of every day, something bad happens to someone good, somewhere. It's an abstract concept that I think we can all agree upon, but it is one that we all keep at arm's length until the universe serves us up a personal pan pizza of disaster, hardship and loss.

When life comes at us from behind and we are forced to smell, breath and taste the bitterness of suffering, it's like nothing else matters. In that three-ring circus of grief, mourning and coping, we lose sight of the beautiful things about living. Suddenly, the expression, "When it rains, it pours" is our mantra and the sun no longer sparkles.

A man has a heart attack. Another has open-heart surgery. An alcoholic returns to drinking. A woman and her husband learn that they are unable to conceive. One man's mother is dying and is becoming senile in the process. Another man's mother is cruel to her dying husband, his father. A woman in her mid-40s doubts that she will ever find a husband. A gay man in his mid-30s wonders if he will ever find a husband.

This is just a sampler of the story lines that have been weaving in and out of my life over the past month, a tangle of threads, a mismatched fabric that at times has been heavy and burdensome. And then Saturday morning comes, I queue up in the ridiculously long line and I lay eyes on all that fruit, petite morsels though they are, but proof positive that life is indeed a continuum, that with pain comes joy, that with loss comes awakening and that somewhere there is a beginning -- and a sweet moment --- underway.

At that very moment, my head screwed back on, and I knew it: This is the food that makes life worth living.

I did not rush home to bake a fruity treat; instead, I've been nibbling from my pints, a reminder to embrace life's sweet moments when they do come. And even when we don't think so, they will.

From the MA summer fruit archives:

Raspberry lemonade

Raspberry corn muffins

Blueberry sorbet

Blueberry blue-corn pancakes

Blueberry buckle

Cherry tea and almond cakes

Cherry clafoutis

Chocolate-cherry brownies

Blackberry cobbler

By Kim ODonnel |  June 16, 2008; 9:53 AM ET Kitchen Musings , Summer
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I would say seasonal foods. You already took one of my big ones: spring strawberries! A few others are king salmon in late spring, tomatoes in the summer, fresh-picked apples in the fal.


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | June 16, 2008 10:54 AM

kim - if it will make you feel any better i have used your vietnamese marinade for several different dinner guests. everybody has raved about it so your words do spread. i might end up going & getting some berries. i love them.

good luck.

Posted by: quark | June 16, 2008 12:17 PM


I ended up at the Courthouse market on Saturday too, and came home with blueberries and raspberries that were to die for! It's amazing how colorful my kitchen now looks. Keep an eye out for Pennsylvania strawberries soon...they had a few at the market this weekend but they won't hit their peak for another week or two. Even better than the ones from the Virginia berry farm!

Posted by: cm | June 16, 2008 1:06 PM

blueberries make life worth living!

Posted by: southern gal | June 16, 2008 1:54 PM

Hi Kim--

At times of trouble, it is certainly true that we need to reconnect to the rhythms of life. For me just going to the farmers market and buying what's fresh and in season are an act of rejuvenation. When my partner broke his hip after being hit by an SUV while riding his bike in early May, what followed was a whirlwind of hospitals, surgery, and painkillers.

But the first day of the 14th and U Farmers Market was the first weekend after his surgery. Father-in-law in tow, I had to go and see old friends and familiar faces and get my hands on some fresh food that I knew I could make into something restorative for body and soul. I can't tell you how uplifted I felt to have the chance to make the connection with my favorite food purveyors, one of whom gave birth only a week ago.

I think I made chicken soup that day and took it to the hospital. My partner loved it because I used the recipe/technique that I learned from watching his mother make it one Christmas a few years before she passed away. Some of it was frozen for another quick meal afer he came home and was craving comfort food. It was a powerful reminder of the power and importance of both food, love, and the bonds we share.

Posted by: Sean | June 17, 2008 3:02 PM

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