Mother had yet another job during prune season. She was the chef de cuisine. As a good Italian girl, she was a firm believer in the importance of eating to keep your strength up. She would always say she had to be sure Daddy ate enough or he would wear himself out. Of course, the rest of us were maybe not working so hard, but we enjoyed the mealtime abundance nevertheless.
Lunch was not a “quick bite at your desk” affair during prune season. Everybody took a full hour break for lunch and our table was always groaning with food. The stars of the lunch table were the vegetables from our huge garden and authentic Italian “salumi” (although we called it “lunch meat”) from Gromo’s Grocery (corner of Healdsburg Ave. and North Street.)
There would always be a heaping plate of sliced tomatoes, which we would eat with a generous dollop of mayonnaise, and a bowl of sliced cucumbers dressed with oil and vinegar. The vinegar was “fait maison” by our neighbor Mr. Stefani. He was from the old country and lived as though he were still in Tuscany. He milked his cow, Sweetheart, by hand twice a day (sometimes I got a glass of fresh milk!) and he fermented his own vinegar. The vinegar was stored in glass jugs with a metal screw top. You had to be careful that the top didn’t corrode from the fumes given off by the super strong vinegar.
One of my favorite lunch items was Mother’s pears with cheddar cheese dressing. Every year, my parents would have a lug box of pears, which were picked before prune season but would ripen gradually. Every day, mother would check the box under the counter in our large pantry and gather the ripe pears, which she peeled, halved and cored. We would fill the “cored” section with her special sauce of grated sharp cheddar cheese mixed with mayonnaise and lemon juice. Delish!
Dessert was always something fresh from the oven. In fact, we had dessert twice a day during prune season. Pies were the highlight. Refrigerated glazed peach pies smothered with whipped cream. Blackberry pies made with the berries from the vines down by the creek at the back of the ranch. Apple pies made with glorious Gravenstein apples served with either vanilla ice cream or a big wedge of cheddar cheese. Mother’s pies were a year-round pleasure. (She froze lots of berries, peaches and apples so she could keep baking.) But they never tasted better than during prune season.
After lunch, everybody would go back to work….except me. At least when I was a young’un picking prunes I was allowed to knock-off after lunch. I’d often spend the rest of the day lounging in the darkened living room, reading books I’d checked out of the library and eating apples from the lug box of apples we bought each year at Strelow’s farm. Sometimes I’d ride along when the men went out to pick up the prunes, just so I felt I was participating.
Dinner during prune season would be an outdoor affair, served in the backyard on the well-worn picnic table. Sometimes we had venison steaks, marinated with oil and vinegar and sprigs of rosemary. The dinner hour commenced with my father’s Tom Collins, an indulgence that was summer-specific. He rarely had a cocktail during other times of the year.
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