A Berry-Bursting Celebration

When my daughter was born, I walked the floors of our Atlanta home night after night, day after day, holding her while she slept or when she cried, stopping always in front of the wall of backyard windows framing a forest of trees. As I grew into my unexpected role of single motherhood, I watched the bare trees bend, and sometimes break under the weight of silver winter icicles. Then, as if reborn, I saw the same trees stretch tall and proud with tight spring blossoms of white, pink and lavender, before expanding, under the summer rains, into a lush landscape of green. Finally, these magnificent trees transformed, as if to colored music, into passionate reds, singing oranges and dancing yellows of fall, just as we packed our boxes and moved away.

In our cozy Portland apartment, my daughter and I would often sit by a tall living room window and look at the plump, round bushes bouncing under the rain and the rows of healthy trees hovering over the parking lot, filling the surrounding hills in a green mist.

After exhausting, frenetic days of unpacking in our apartment in Los Angeles, I finally sat down at my desk positioned in front of a window to write. But all I could see were white stucco walls, black wires and, only if I leaned forward and looked up, the long, skinny necks of two distant palm trees. Right then I understood how profoundly trees define place. I prayed to find a way to embrace this one.

Tu B’Shevat, the new year for trees, emphasizes the nourishing, even spiritual, relationship between man and trees.

"For a human is like the tree of the field" (Deuteronomy 20:19), the kabbalists believed. So, in addition to donating money to plant much-needed trees in Israel, there is — according to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in "Jewish Literacy" (William Morrow, 1991) — the Tu B’Shevat seder, which kabbalists began in the 16th century. The kabbalists believed eating a variety of tree-born fruits during a seder ritual — such as olives, dates, grapes, figs, pomegranates, apples, walnuts, carob, pears and cherries — was a tangible way of improving our spiritual selves. So I decided to honor Tu B’Shevat by making a fruit and nut sauce I could eat every day.

I started by toasting some chopped walnuts and adding three different fruit juices. Then I cut up some plump medjool dates and added fresh cranberries. As I stirred the softening fruits over a flame, I recalled the urban shock I went into after our move to Los Angeles, and how on long walks with my daughter, I recovered my balance through observing the trees.

First, I discovered a tree leaning over our mailbox that grows tiny white peaches perfect for summer pies. And then, I noticed just above head-height branches at the end of our walkway, dangling, sun-glistening lemons close enough to touch. And each fall, as we passed the Japanese-style garden on the way to my daughter’s school, I watched the green leaves of one sculptured tree open up to blossoming persimmons.

As the cranberry walnut date sauce thickened to a velvet red, I remembered the squished berries that used to stick to our shoes, until my daughter and I learned which sidewalks to walk on and which ones to avoid, when the trees in our neighborhood dropped their inedible red fruits.

Unfortunately, I haven’t learned to love the urban view from my Los Angeles apartment. But from my desk over the last five years, I have looked above the city walls at those skinny palms and watched them stand ghost still against a summer cobalt sky, tussle playfully in a spring breeze or lean desperately, without breaking, in fierce winter winds. From those two trees, I have learned how to be in a place that is not yet home — to be still, to play and to bend, when necessary, without breaking.

Cranberry Walnut Date Sauce

This sauce has a wonderful bright taste that I love with my bowl of fruit and yogurt in the morning. Because of its full texture, it is also delicious as a spread on a thick slice of date nut bread. And the majestic red color and sweet aroma of these cooked berries is guaranteed to make you grateful for fruit bearing trees every time you make it.

1¼2 cup walnuts, chopped

1¼2 cup orange juice

1¼4 cup unsweetened pineapple juice (from 20-ounce can)

1¼2 cup unsweetened pineapple chunks, sliced small (from can)

1¼4 teaspoon lemon juice, fresh

1¼3 cup sugar

1¼4 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1¼2 cup fresh medjool dates, chopped

3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed well

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, stir walnuts constantly until aromatic and toasted, approximately one to two minutes. Add remaining ingredients to walnuts, stirring well. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer uncovered until most berries pop open and liquid thickens, approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Make sure to stir every few minutes and if necessary, add 1¼4 cup of water to keep ingredients moist but not watery. Sauce thickens as it cools. Transfer to medium bowl to cool. Refrigerate until use.

Servings: Two and a half cups

Serving Suggestions: As a side to meats, a sauce for yogurts or a spread on breads.

Lisa Solomon’s food articles have been seen in several publications, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Washington Jewish Week and The Canadian Jewish News.