Honeysuckle Redux

Monday, May 12, 2008

It's less than a mile long but it is an interesting bit of territory. The bike trail along the railroad track between Carrboro and Chapel Hill is the place in town where soccer moms with jogging strollers, the homeless, University students and assorted drug merchants all rub elbows. Generally they ignore one another, but they all seem to be interested in me and what I'm doing. There's lots going on. It is our own version of Midaq Alley.

An uncommon number of botanists seem to use this path to get from the University to their apartments in Carrboro. They often stop their bikes to either question me or to offer scientific tidbits. Did I know for instance that I am picking Japanese honeysuckle, an unwelcomed invader? People who I would probably avoid on Franklin Street chat me up as I move up one side of the path and down the other. For a while there was a young woman who at first would talk in a quiet pleasant voice, asking me about my task. Then she would suddenly be consumed by a frightening rage and begin screeching and ripping down flyers that were stapled to telephone poles. I haven't seen her this year. Last summer, someone I will refer to only as C. took a particular liking to me. He would narrate for me as we walked, filling me in on people we passed, telling me sometimes startling stories of life in this no-mans-land between our two towns. I guess that because there is no road here, there is little supervision by the law. This is probably why I can walk up and down undisturbed drinking a beer as I pick. C. was a large rough man, nice really, but the years of drug use and homelessness had taken its toll. It dawned on me about mid-August that C.'s interest in me might be romantic in nature. I was right, it turned out. When I told him that I wasn't interested he quietly gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek and walked off. I've never seen him again either.

Not everything that goes on along the bike trail is so dramatic. This spring's ample rains bode well for the blackberries that grow along side the honeysuckle. Both plants like the same habitat and usually bloom simultaneously. This year the honeysuckle was a little earlier, but now they are in tandem. There is also a smattering of our wild Cherokee rose in the same spots. There are as many varieties of wild blackberries as of honeysuckle. The predominant one along the railroad track has beautiful lavender tinted flowers. The fruit it produces has a pleasant slight bitterness but is exceptionally seedy. For the last few summers, I've been using them sparingly with a Madeira sabayon but this year I may use them in the buttermilk sorbet recipe that now has strawberries. The food mill will remove most of the seeds and I suspect that the resulting sorbet will be delicious.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, the soft shelled crab frenzy continues unabated. We had enough for this whole weekend, although there was only one order left to offer to the last table on Sunday night. We're beginning to benefit from the arrival of spring vegetables. I pretty much have to wait until things are available in industrial quantities before I can use them on our menu, but presently we have cold grilled asparagus (good hot or cold) with a sesame-soy dressing and baby snow peas from Betsey's garden tossed with sea salt, tarragon, endive and olive oil. Speaking of industrial quanties, the honeysuckle goes on and on.

posted by Bill Smith at 1:55 PM


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