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Aug 28
Saturday

Cherry Season

Filed under Featured Stories, Regions, Pacific Northwest

By Natalie Pascale Boisseau

Note: This piece contains sensitive content about suicide.

(French: [klafuti]; Occitan: clafotís [klafuˈtis] )

My love, when I look at the deep red cherries in the white bowl before me, the color of a sunburst heart, I become a citizen of the present moment. I forget that I am a foreigner in this country.

Through the window, the sky is blue and the red maroon roof gently paled from sun exposure. I could be from anywhere, from my native Montreal to my adopted Seattle.

My love, ever since we visited your uncle Kim and aunt Susan in the south of Los Angeles, three years ago, I have been craving clafoutis, with its baked cherries bursting with deep red sweetness activated by the sunlight. One night, when we visited, after buying a big bag of cherries, I said,“I will make dessert tomorrow. How about … clafoutis?” The word spilled from my mouth like raindrops of red sunshine.

Uncle Kim, always tied to the computer, searched for a recipe. In fact wherever one looks, on the internet or borrowed cookbooks, it is a similar recipe, simple and alive. The fruits are covered with a flan batter. It is made of eggs, milk, flour, and a little sugar.

It was something you and I have never made before. My French recipe books quietly lined up back in our home kitchen in Seattle are useless so far away south on the west coast. My mother who died from suicide when I was thirteen loved cooking for many people at all occasions. I still have all her cookbooks. Her passion for preparing a good meal and the company with loved ones, the aroma of her cooking has followed me to our home, in our marriage, in our lives in Seattle across the continent all the way from Montreal. Her cooking influences, however, have never laid clafoutis at our door.  Clafoutis is free of nostalgia, free from traumatic edges, found in the food section of the newspaper. Why clafoutis? There is nothing to heal, to regret, to walk back home to, only the promise of a vibrant red new dessert to savor, placed on a white table cloth, waiting for me, for you, for our life together, for a new world. When your uncle Kim printed the recipe, and with your brown eyes, warm, knowing, curious of my improvisation, Clafoutis crossed centuries and cultures to finally reach me.

I am touched by the simplicity of the few ingredients, as simple as a refreshing meditation with the window open, a breeze from the Pacific Ocean—the roof red and the sky as liquid blue as the ocean seen from space. As simple as the moon bathing our presence, the felt warmth of our love.

Clafoutis is a word born from the Occitan language, once spoken in the south of France, parts of Spain, Monaco and Italy. During the Middle Ages, its troubadours were inspired to invent courtly love and the language spread through Europe. They traveled from villages to cities, with inventive songs, music and revelries, jesting with truth-telling in freedom and carrying clafoutis in their wake, baked in ovens of royalty and humble peasants alike, across boundaries in constant movement.

C’est le temps des cerises goes the old French song. It is the time of cherries, of love and summer, of their elusiveness and also of loss and broken hearts. I am not really French; I am Quebecoise, and the song holds layers of colonization from the French on native land and the subsequent abandonment of the colony to British occupation. The song celebrating the cherry time alludes to the French Revolution, the fratricidal blood of concitoyens, fellow citizens, that was spilled, and the bitter sweetness of the peace that followed, with the yearning for that peace to heal terrible wounds.

The loving melancholy of the song and of cherries never reached me until now. I was never in tune with June, the cherry season in Quebec, growing up after my mother’s suicide. It was early spring in Montreal and I was thirteen years old, a girl on the cusp of changes. June followed my mother’s death, and my mother’s death came the year after my dear uncle’s suicide. Grief has always visited me in early spring returning every year, stretching through my life like a never-ending winter.

Cerises is a word full of joy,  but my loving mother had deserted me. Suicide is a war, and blood is spilled. How can one feel lightness and rejoice in the flaking beauty raining down, the first petals white turning rose with bloody infusion? Or enjoy eating the cherries harvested so far away from my native province, in Ontario or British Columbia? No, I had no awareness of the seasons of cherries and blossoming trees. I kept cherry joy at bay, my horizon limited to the small seasonal familiar strawberries of Quebec, with intense flavor, easily at reach as I walked in the field with my two brothers,  their heavy soothing little heads lowered toward the ground. Our young bodies followed as we picked their sweetness one by one. Une par une was all I could do after my mother died.
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