Let’s Eat — A Writer’s Guide to Cooking

Fall is here, and I have been eating local Muscat grapes, an activity which for me is nothing less than a spiritual experience — so full of memory it is, and of longing, and of boyhood dreams and imaginings.

Walking through an old Muscat vineyard is one of the great joys of life. In early Muscat plantings in the San Joaquin Valley, before tractors had replaced horses, the vines were planted ten feet apart in rows that were also ten feet apart. Later, the standard adopted for all grape varieties was seven feet between vines and twelve feet between rows. Since in the making of raisins grapes are dried on trays on the ground, the added space between rows allows more room for the sun to do its work without obstruction by the vineyard growth.

Muscats are trained on wooden stakes, without wires or trellises. After several decades, the stake rots away, but by then the vine is thick enough and strong enough to support itself. With bark-covered arms reaching in all directions, each vine becomes a classic sculpture with a personality all its own. Other forms of life make their home in and immediately around the vines. Birds and lizards peek out of holes in the trunks, spiders spin their webs in the foliage, gophers and squirrels burrow between one vine and the next, and bugs hibernate under the thick, furry bark.

Because of their large, hard seeds, very few Muscats are left these days. Tragically, modern consumers have come to prefer seedless varieties, and to accept the inferior flavor and texture that comes with convenience. Many wonderful grape varieties have been abandoned because of this. The insanity also extends into the realm of watermelons, where so-called seedless melons have become the norm. But the fact remains that seeded varieties of grapes and melons are far superior, because seeds impart flavor in fruit much the same as bones do in meat. A lamb roast or pork roast with the bone in is always tastier and more tender, while grapes with seeds offer an Old World experience with their distinctive flavor and bouquet.

This brings us back to the spiritual side of eating. There is a nice passage on this subject in William Saroyan’s book of journal entries, Days of Life and Death and Escape to the Moon. On November 21, 1968, while spending time at his home in Fresno, he said:

Turnips. There comes a time when turnips must be considered, along with literary style, personal integrity, and universal meaning. The greens of turnips stewed in the broth of lamb — fifteen minutes is long enough — have a flavor that is so deeply satisfying that one is at a loss to understand how such a simple member of the vegetable family can mean so much to the soul in the body, but there it is — every time I have some turnip greens in this manner, by themselves, alone, pure and simple, I wonder how it is that I have gone so long without them. Once again I feel rare salts and minerals of mystic power charging through the liquids of the body and making everything else stand up and cheer. Is this possible? Can a matter of eating, of getting stuff down the gullet into the gut, mean so much? Well, it seems to, that’s all I know. It is necessary to consider, to the end of time and life, the other things, the big things, but now and then one must remember at least for a moment or two turnips and their greens.

The same, of course, can — in fact, must — be said for Muscat grapes — especially since they are a dwindling breed here in what is rapidly becoming the Generic States of America, home of tasteless, over-fertilized greens, year-round intercontinental fruit shipments, and cucumbers wrapped in plastic.

Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

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