Kitchen Mystic by Paulette Licitra

The Deconstruction by Karen Cantrell

Patisserie de Pakistan by Gregors Johnson

Meals of a Lifetime by Rebecca Keller

Ode to Risotto by Donald Newlove

Fully Committed by Doug Sovern

Biscuits and Gravy by William Blomstedt

Keeping It Tidy by Alan Linton

If I Knew You Were Coming by Alisha Lumea

On Your Only Day Off by Nicole Edwards

Bagpipes and Pan Fried Smelts by Ted Radakovic

Joseph Conrad’s Dark Linguini by Giovanni Berchtold

Missing Something by Jean-Luc Bouchard

We Love You, Mayonnaise! by Alona Martinez

Japanese Food by Esther Cohen

Raw Köfte by Hardy Griffin

Proust's Soup by Giovanni Berchtold

A Sacred Virgin by Paulette Licitra

on a friday evening by Keith Leidner

Ropa Vieja by Raul Palma

Deidre's Last Meal by Esther Cohen

Wired by Alan Linton

Chestnut by Katherine Gleason

The Moon is an Outdoor Sandwich by Patty Houston

Garlicky Greens by Lois Marie Harrod

First the Shell, Musical; Then the Custard, Irrevocable by Sarah Begley

Meals of Choice by Dorian Fox

A Low Table by Christian Aguiar

The Sylvian Fissure by Rosalie Loewen

Two Versions of Eating Potatoes by David Spiering

Conch Salad by Michele Ruby

Hopper by Michael Onofrey

Caution: Coffee is Hot by Gary Scott

The Fairy Part by Alberto Giuseppe

Foie Gras by Judith Edelman

Rosemary and Olive Oil by Gail Gauthier

Mario's Shoes by Natalie Parker-Lawrence

Cake by Marianne Villanueva

Retreat: October on Copper Mountain by M.E. Parker

The Sandwich Diaries by Angus Woodward

But There Was No Star Anise by Andrew Martell

Fruit Route by Susan King

Fruit Route

by Susan King

July 2012

Because my family owned a vegetable business, the children worked on Saturdays on the routes the trucks took through parts of New York and Vermont. My dad penciled a line on the door molding of the French doors. That line indicated how tall a child had to be to work a Saturday on the fruit truck. As the oldest of the four kids, I reached the line first and was the first to take the journey north with my dad. My brothers who were close in age to me, soon followed. It was a family tradition.   

The weather was cold and crisp with sunshine occasionally breaking through dark grey clouds. My dad said I had not dressed warm enough so half asleep back upstairs I went to dress in layers, like an onion. Now layered with clothes four levels deep I was ready to hop in and out of the heated vegetable truck. It was hard to move around squashed under all those layers, but the daytime temperatures would swing from cold to warm to cold again when the sun went down at night.  

The trucks left loaded with artistically arranged fresh fruits and vegetables around nine a.m. and did not return until late, usually around nine p.m. It made for a long day for a kid whose job it was to help out bagging oranges, weighing potatoes, sorting onions, and running the order up to the door where the housewives waited ready to tip the helper.  

Some wives tipped with huge silver dollars, some with quarters, some not at all. The silver dollars felt so heavy in my small hands when the bespeckled grandmother who lived in a renovated church pressed them into my sweaty palms.  She had a ship in a bottle that her husband put in there, so amazing to me. The best part of the morning was playing with the customers' dogs. The friendly dogs wagged their tails and romped in the grass. The worst ones stayed inside and couldn't be trusted with children. I liked the pair of collies named Soapy and Sudsy the best. They were soft and friendly. I could have spent the whole Saturday running in circles with them on the cool lawn in front of their modern ranch house. We stopped for fifteen or twenty minutes at Mac's house and when we left the dogs and I were tired out. But my dad always made a big sale there. Mac was a good customer.

Mornings went pretty fast as the truck made stops at the farmhouses, now owned by country gentlemen and women, along the Battenkill River headed north along route 313 toward Arlington, Vermont. This is one of the most scenic roads in America with a covered  bridge and immaculate red painted barns and white houses. The customers were artists, lawyers, psychiatrists, and writers usually from New York City or Europe. They liked to chat while they chose what they wanted from the truck. Since they were first on the route, they got the best pickings of the freshest produce and were not adverse to paying more for specialty items like Belgian endive, casaba grapes, honeydew melons, and tangerines. Dad sold mushrooms saying they were pretty as a naked woman--a thought not wasted on the Italian-born artist, Charles Cagle, who painted nudes in his barn studio. My brother and I took art lessons there in the summer. We learned with the adults how to render the red barn with pastels on our easels.  We shaded the dark shadows and made the sunlight play on the lilac trees. Afterward, we climbed the rocks along the Battenkill River searching for trout under jagged rocks.  But somehow the fish always swam away before we could find them. Cagle, who specialized in bowls of fruit still lifes and nudes draped on crimson shawls eating apples, painted portraits of my mother, my dad, and me. He designed the cornucopia of vegetables and fruit that adorned the side of the truck making the grapes glisten.

Near a steel bridge that crossed the river a white house sat nestled in the rocks, but we had to cross a long rolling lawn to get to it. The Norwegian woman who lived there was the wife of an Albany attorney. The lawyer's wife bought fresh artichokes and asparagus. The lawyer was often away in Albany on business, but when he came home on the weekends, he could expect gourmet meals made from the finest produce. Up the road to the north of that house was a gas station owned by a husband and wife.  She was a pie expert and discussed Cortlands, Spies, and Granny Smiths and which apples would hold up best in baking and which pumpkins made the best pie filling. I always thought my dad spent too much time with that pie lady, but then one day she gave me a piece of her apple pie and I changed my mind.

At lunchtime we stopped along the Battenkill River and opened the thermos steaming with hot mushroom soup. My dad would sort the grapefruit and hang the soft ones from the branches of a bare tree. This was free advertising because cars would stop and buy from us right there on the highway. The best part of lunch was the chicken sandwiches with crunchy bacon my mom made for us. If my dad felt tired he’d grumble that there was too much mayonnaise on the sandwich. I think he complained because he missed my mom and we still had hours to go until we turned around and headed home.

In East Arlington we stopped at a huge Vermont house with eight kids. We’d be there quite a while since there were so many big houses and large families. My dad sold bags and boxes of vegetables and fruit there. I made friends with a girl named Julie Ann. She was so country with her long reddish pigtails and her horses in the yard. While my Dad distributed vegetables, Julie Ann and I shared homemade sugar cookies with milk and talked about school.  She was the Norman Rockwell model of the freckled girl in the doctor's office. But she didn't really have all those freckles; the painting was the illustrator's interpretation of her.

At the Arlington Inn we unloaded cases of produce. Hotels and restaurants were our biggest accounts. Across the street was a spreading chestnut tree where I gathered bags of the smooth brown nuts.  Still in Arlington, we stopped at a small cabin along a creek where the housewife gave me a date filled sugar cookie the size of a softball. Hot from the oven the cookies were glistening with sprinkled sugar.

After that it was time for the maple sugar candy stop. We trudged up the worn wooden steps to the country store that smelled like the wheel of Vermont cheese that sat on a wooden table behind the counter. The cans of maple syrup were lined up by size, but I was drawn to the molded maple sugar candy. I always picked the man and the woman and ate them both. As we drove out of Arlington's remote hollows on worn dirt roads, my Dad said we’d have to stop at Dorothy's before we headed home.  

By then it was almost suppertime as the sun disappeared behind the Green Mountains. A chill wind blew into the open door of the walk-in truck and the lack of sunlight made everything dim and ghostly. A porch light beamed through the darkness at Dorothy's house. The few plank stairs to her kitchen were dimly lit. Out of the house in her apron came writer Dorothy Canfield Fisher who needed vegetables to feed her two guests, poets Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. The two white-haired men sat chatting in her living room and welcomed us. Dorothy excused herself and began cooking the dinner. She exclaimed, "Oh Clarence, (my dad's name) this is just what I needed" as we brought in baskets of beets, potatoes, corn, cauliflower, carrots, lettuce and tomatoes.

At the end of the route we gave away the last of the produce to the people who lived up a deserted road where children ran out of the house with no shoes on their feet. Vermont had no welfare program and the Governor thanked my dad in a letter for his charity. We left cabbages, potatoes, and apples.
Darkness and silence filled the truck for the long ride back home. We rode in the quiet, not talking anymore, with only the clanking of the weighing scale breaking the mood as it banged against the metal shelves. Only empty California labeled boxes remained. We crossed the border back into New York as the welcome sign slipped by in the headlights.

We slowed down to take in a fawn off the side of the road near the gravel parking lot of a fishing pull-off. He had been grazed by a car and needed help. We put him in the truck. Back home my dad would call the veterinarian to pick up the fawn. Naturally, I wanted to keep him for myself, but I got talked out of that. The fawn was still and quiet as we drove into Cambridge with our injured passenger.

From the road we saw the lights of our house, more inviting than all the houses we had seen that day. With our last bit of energy we unloaded empty boxes. My Dad went into his office to count the money we made. He put the cash in the safe and we went upstairs to eat the dinner mom had waiting for us on a freshly laundered blue and white checkered tablecloth with candlelight.

My paycheck for the day went straight to my savings account. I never even saw it.

  Susan King resides in Walton, NY, a town known for its County Fair. She is a former General Electric Technical Editor and college teacher of English and Communication at a small college in Vermont. She was educated at the University of Akron, Ohio and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY where she studied Mass Communication and Technical Writing.



Photo of "Coarsegold Produce Truck " under Creative Commons.