Memory is hunger. When I read this recently, I paused, I underlined it, I wrote notes beside it in pencil. I’ve been concentrating on Hemingway this summer, and this quote came from his memoir, A Moveable Feast, about his time in Paris in the 1920s with his first wife, Hadley. It is Hadley who says these words as they reminisce about shared experiences: “There are so many sorts of hunger. In the spring there are more. But that’s gone now. Memory is hunger.”
This summer, during this COVID crisis, my sister, cousin, and aunt often have running text dialogues that start in the morning and span into the afternoon, since we have not seen each other in months. These conversations always begin with a memory. Often about our childhoods. Often about my grandfather, Charlie. The memory starts simply with one of us stating, “I remember thus and so.” Then each of us takes turns filling in details. Most of the time, I read their descriptions one after the other, after the other, responding last. Being the youngest, I find that their memories trigger my own, and I’m able to paint a more sumptuous picture of those times with him.
Charlie had a large yard with a huge cherry tree, a grape arbor, a small garden, and several fig trees. As with everything, he took meticulous care of these treasures. Often when I’d visit in the summer, Charlie would be sitting in the shade. A low table would be set before him with a fat watermelon, a platter, and a knife. He would cut thick wedges and offer them to us as we sat to join him and talk. Cherries, concord grapes, fresh figs, melons – all these remind me of Charlie and influence the way I cook and eat. All of these bring me comfort. Summer would not be summer without these.
Indeed, both of my grandfathers kept gardens. My Grandpa Tony had an amazing green thumb. He had an apple tree on which he grafted a pear branch so that he could have two fruits on one tree. I always thought he was magic. On his postage stamp-sized garden, he grew corn, tomatoes, squash, beans, cucumbers, spinach, lettuce, and all manner of herbs: rosemary, mint, oregano, and basil. It is the basil that triggers the most memories for me. Every time I smell basil, Tony’s face comes into my mind. The smell of basil makes me smile, and I am home again. Ah…Tony! There he is bending to pick the ripest tomatoes, snapping off some long beans, taking a basil leaf and rubbing it gently, holding his hand up to my nose. “Smell,” he commands, and it all comes flooding back.
This summer, my 94-year-old father (Tony’s son) and I have weekly phone conversations. We talk about his health, bad news, good books, but it is food that dominates our conversations. My father does not keep a garden, but he still lives by himself and cooks his own meals. In fact, he cooks for his housekeeper, his guitar teacher, and his young neighbors. As much as he loves to read and write, I think he loves cooking more. He is always inventing new recipes. Some of my most joyous memories of my father are our conversations about food. I want to write a cookbook with him where we start with basic ingredients like chickpeas and black olives. Then each of us would make recipes from these simple ingredients and see how diverse and inventive our meals could be.
Usually, my summers consist of traveling north to New England and Canada. Always, they consist of finding and trying new foods. Last summer in Montreal, I found so many wonderful places: gluten free bakeries, cafes, and tea shops (The Art of Cookies and Ming Tao Xuan). I miss traveling and making new food discoveries. So besides concentrating on Hemingway, I have been concentrating on many memorable meals for myself and my husband – always starting with simple, fresh ingredients. Here are three recipes inspired by three simple summer fruits: figs, watermelon, and apricots.
Fresh Fig, Ricotta, & Honey Toast
4 slices of your favorite bread
½ cup part-skim ricotta cheese
2 fresh figs sliced lengthwise
2 teaspoons honey
- Toast bread.
- Spread ricotta cheese on toasted bread.
- Top with sliced figs.
- Drizzle with honey.
Note: The figs I use in this recipe and which are the most popular where I shop are Brown Turkey figs. They are brownish-purple in color. Choose soft, plump fig with bent stems.
Watermelon Summer Salad
¼ cup fresh Basil
4 cups Watermelon, scooped into 1-inch balls
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 cup Ricotta Salata, crumbled
1 ½ tsp salt
- With a melon baller scoop watermelon into 1-inch balls.
- Place basil leaves on top of each other and roll tightly into a log. Slice lengthwise into thin ribbons.
- Combine basil slices and watermelon in a large bowl.
- Mix lime juice, olive oil and salt together in a small bowl
- Pour over watermelon and basil. Toss to combine.
- Chill salad before serving, at least 30 minutes.
Note: Ricotta Salata differs from ricotta in that it is a hard cheese from Sicily. It has the consistency of feta cheese, but with a milder, creamy texture and a nutty taste.
4 cups apricots, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¾ cup old fashioned oats
¾ cup almond flour
½ cup sliced almonds
½ cup cold unsalted butter, diced into small cubes
pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 350°. Butter square baking dish.
- In a mixing bowl, add chopped apricots and granulated sugar. Stir to combine, then transfer to prepared baking dish.
- In a separate mixing bowl, add topping ingredients (brown sugar, cinnamon, oats, almond flour, sliced almonds, salt, and diced cold butter). Use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the oat mixture.
- Spread topping over apricots in baking dish, and gently pat to even it out.
- Bake 40-50 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly.
- Serve warm, top with ice cream if desired, and enjoy!
Note: One summer in Rome, while staying with friends, I took total advantage of their apricot tree, which happily supplied me with a surfeit of this golden fruit.