I was born in March when the only flowers bold enough to face the cruel northern winds and ice storms of seemingly interminable winter were snowdrops, dark stems and leaves fearlessly piercing the frigid surface supporting three delicate, shy white petals staring submissively at the snow-covered ground. Farmers markets displayed meager offerings, early spring produce ripened in glass houses – spring onions and garlic, spinach, butter lettuce, and peas, all of them tinted in various hues of green, too monotonous to offset the gray of depressing winter months.
My sister was born toward the end of July, when the Earth spews forth its abundance, making the stalls at the markets sag under the weight of fruits and vegetables in all primary colors, throwing at us dahlias and gladiolus with their large, obscenely beautiful flowers, flaunting their velvety petals and sinful shades like over-confident debutantes who are aware that their time is yet to come.
I tried to gather some points stating that there was magic in the first awakenings of nature, that the harbingers of spring were the toughest specimens of life on the planet, that we had to look beyond the barren land and envision the bounty that is fast approaching. My words were full of visions and promises, but they could hardly combat the certainty of summer. The only revenge was that I could have an actual birthday party and my sister had to be satisfied with family and only an unpredictable, but very low number of friends in attendance. But a victory is a victory, and I will take scraps if I have to, thank you.
Right about my birthday (the last day of winter), we would start thinking of cleaning out the closets, replacing the heavy wardrobe for the lighter summer clothes. That was also the time of spring cleaning, one of the most dreaded events in our household. And the month of March did not contain one single holiday away from school, which made it thirty one days too long! Apart from my birthday and a few weekends we spent skiing, there was little to look forward to in March.
My sister did not have to work to sell the height of summer to anyone – not that she would, even if she had to. By that time, everyone in town was sporting a healthy sun-kissed tan, summer break was at its best, the streets were teeming with teenagers, the city pool was the place to be, and parents were stewing in summer heat long enough not to be bothered to keep everything in check. Which was another perk of the late summer. Damn.
As if that were not enough, the crates of peaches started appearing in our back yard, grown on the farm of our family friends. And I am not talking about your ordinary, supermarket quality fruit. These beauties were hand-picked at the peak of their ripeness, gently laid into the crates covered with crumpled newspaper like babies in cradles, their red, and orange, and yellow fuzzy faces looking up. We approached them with the predictability of Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the mere thought of their fragrant, luscious flesh that yielded so easily to our teeth and tongues, oblivious of the aromatic, sweet juices running down our chins and staining our tee-shirts.
Summer for me is not at its height without peaches. They encapsulate the best nature has to offer, holding the essence of the sun in their perfect round shape. I had a chance to summon the taste of those long-gone summers a month ago when I was in Serbia. A crate appeared again in the back yard and I could not wait to sink my teeth into the soft fruit, anticipating a flood of memories. And I was not disappointed. I have stopped resenting my sister and her birth season long ago. Every summer, while in Serbia, I buy gladiolus frequently, even when she is not with me in our childhood home. I eat peaches with abandon, smiling, awash with nostalgia, remembering those lazy, care-free summers of our youth when everything seemed possible.
SUMMER PEACH CAKE
This recipe is very versatile as you can use many different fruits instead of peaches. It works wonderfully well with sour cherries, plums, and apples.
- 1 cup sunflower oil (or vegetable oil)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cups brown sugar, packed
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- ½ cups milk
- ½ cup plain yogurt (or buttermilk)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2-3 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into wedges
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a square pan (9×9) with foil and oil it lightly.
Cream the oil and both sugars until combined. Add the eggs, milk and yogurt. Mix in the flour and the baking powder. Pour half of the dough into the pan. Place the peaches on top and cover with the rest of the dough.
Bake until golden brown (the knife inserted in the middle should come out dry). Let it cool in the pan for a few minutes. Serve sprinkled with powder sugar.