between the plums and peaches, mounds
of curated stone fruit, lies the slighted apricot.
Dull on the tongue, skins of damp paper, minimal
scent. Nevertheless, I lug home sixty pounds.
Sensitive to the touch, bruises are inevitable, a result
of small unseen collisions, lunar consequences like Kepler
or Stevinus. Freed from the box, I scatter the apricots
across metal trays. Hundreds of orange spheres side
by side. They change by the hour—blushed cheeks
appear, pulp softens. I rotate and inspect them as I pass
by throughout the day. Velvet against my fingers.
I await the ones that lag.
I reach up to the rack overhead. My hands grasp a bronze
handle of my tarnished pot. Copper, with hammered sloped
sides, a necessary jam indulgence. For months an ornament
hanging, now summoned. A knife orbits an apricot, a twist
to open. The pit pops out. Halves, quarters, and sugar
in the pot, warm to simmered orange moons. I coax
with vanilla bean and bright lemon. A laced aroma releases.
This is not the churchly stained-glass purple of Luther’s plums,
blackberry’s rapid boil, an effervescent noble chatter, or sliced
Bartlett pears melted into translucent gold. This is a lustered
orange. Diamonds suspended in a vibrant syrup. Before long,
bubbles plod and I dare not go far. Frequent stirs are needed.
The wooden spoon pushes through the molten compote
and reveals glimpses of copper beneath.
I stare into the pot and wait.
For many years I was unexceptional. Satisfied with
C-pluses in history, one of the last to cross the finish line
in the 880-meter race, no dreams to be a teacher or
an astronaut. But I knew I didn’t want to live in a row
of houses with short asphalt driveways, work eight-hour
days with an hour for lunch, or rarely fly in an airplane.
Eventually I discovered I wanted to ride a subway, jammed
among a disparate constellation of strangers, linked
by the simple movement on and off a train. I wanted
to take a cab up Park Avenue, the median filled with
tulips, spring night air pushing in the open windows.
I wanted to sit on the steps of the Met after gazing
at the Temple of Dendur. I wanted to drive
over a bridge into a tunnel of fog, to spend time
surrounded by pastures and fields with more lambs
and cattle than people. It also turned out I needed to
whisk ethereal Champagne sabayons, pipe meringue
over baked Alaskas, watch for sugar’s turn from gritty
sand to caramel’s deep amber, and remove scented
pans of gingerbread from the oven. I needed to be
part of an eclectic group, who while preparing feasts
for others, eats standing up out of stainless-steel bowls.
And hidden so deeply I barely heard it, I wanted my name
in the Library of Congress.
The flame turned off, the apricots are still.
Jam lavished across toasted yeasty sourdough.
Each bite savored—tart, buttery, sweet. I ladle
jam into glass jars, wide mouth and smooth.
Flat lids, external rings, a steaming water bath
until radiant half pints line the kitchen counter
like Christo’s Gates in Central Park. In time,
jam, labeled and double stacked, fills the shelves.
My fingertips drift and arc across the glass.
I turn off the light and pause. The jars glint
in the dark sky of the pantry.
Gerber Trencher Cutting Board
Patent no. 2,665,016.
Richard Hudson, designer
Gerber Legendary Blades Company
West Linn, Oregon
An oval walnut slab, milled and sanded, has aged more than fifty years to the color of perfectly cooked caramel just before the cream. The raised edge sustained except for one side where the lip ends, has been gouged, dropped from the height of a kitchen counter. The board slants, a slight grade down from the front, unevenly worn rough by thousands of vertical knife cuts. Thin, healed scars. This is where the bulk of the work occurred. My father, standing over it at the red linen Formica counter. Occasionally, he’d put down the carving knife to reach for a thick-bottomed, Steuben glass. Old Grand Dad Bourbon over ice with a splash of water. His fingers would wrap it protectively, each time his wedding ring clinking lightly against the cold glass. Most men he knew at the time didn’t wear such a ring, but years into their marriage my mother had given it as an anniversary gift. He liked to show it off. He had, after all, forsaken his family for her. A deep rift with his sister and he moved his family thirteen hundred miles away. When asked, his usually warm voice turned cold as the ice in his drink. He’d only say she was insensitive to my wife. No regrets. The knife edge has begun to flake flecks of walnut from the board. Unusable. To sand it smooth would try to return it to what it was. I bury it in the back of the cupboard
A Small Hour
The porch light draws the dark in.
The kitchen, an eased hollow.
On the counter rests
half a chocolate layer cake.
We are alone.
Back in bed, I dream
the lyric of Bicknell’s thrush,
pollinating midges, a walk
among cacao pods, earthy
yellow and crimson.
Several years ago, after decades as a pastry chef whose writing consisted mostly of creating recipes, making lists, and crossing things off, a friend gave me Apricot Poem, a poem by Diane Wakoski. As I read it over and over, I thought, I want my brain to think like that. But I wasn’t convinced it was possible. Poetry, at its best, can sometimes seem like a foreign language or a magic trick. It was succinct but simultaneously fuller and more vivid than anything I had read, let alone thought. Wakoski had brought the apricot—a fruit I loved and had worked with for ages—to life for me in a way that went well beyond baking. I wanted to follow that. Decades earlier, at a luncheon on a veranda in Australia’s Hunter Valley, an apricot tart instilled a similar but wordless intensity. With my first bite, the voices at the table grew distant. I was silent. I knew that I couldn’t verbally articulate what I was experiencing. I had no desire to. I was possessed. To this day, with every dessert I make, I strive to recreate that moment. The wonderful struggle to write poetry, from the beginning, compelled me in a way that felt familiar. The search for the right word felt in some ways like the meticulous process of creating a dessert, searching for the right combination and ratio of elements, considering the essentials, deciding with care what should be taken out to strengthen what remains.
Emily Luchetti spends her time writing poems and prose, making jam and bean to bar chocolate. She has written six cookbooks and is a James Beard Foundation Award-Winning Pastry Chef. She lives in Bolinas, California, with her husband.