My grandma played a huge role in raising me. From afterschool pickups and babysitting to cooking me delicious Armenian meals, she was my superwoman. Seriously. One of the most important things she taught me was the value of spending time outside. For as long as I can remember, she maintained a thriving garden. From fruits to vegetables to herbs, you name it and she grew it.
With winter came tangerine season in my house.
Starting in October, the fruits on the tangerine tree in the backyard started turning yellow, slowly ripening to the bright orange that dotted the trees in November and December. They served as the perfect accompaniment to a meal or after dinner snack. For those who weren’t able to make it into town, my grandmother would pack up a box of tangerines and ship them across the country. She literally mailed out boxes of sunshine in the coldest months of the year.
Later, a pomegranate tree joined the mix. This added another rich flavor to our winter months. Not only do pomegranates have a delicious flavor, they serve as a culturally significant food to countries all across the Middle East. My grandma would spend hours cleaning pomegranate seeds for us, and the fruits from her tree shined a beautiful ruby red grocery store pomegranates couldn’t touch. We weren’t the only ones who loved the pomegranates— the squirrels and birds always ate a good amount of the fruits. My grandma hated this. She went to all sorts of means to save her precious pomegranate babies, from putting the pomegranates in socks to hanging CDs from the branches to deter the animals. She used every part of the fruits that were not touched by the animals, making tea from the skins and juice and pomegranate molasses from the excess seeds.
Blackberries come with the early whispers of summer.
Right as the weather starts to turn warm, the blackberries darken on their vines. Blackberries meant school ended soon and that the sun came out for good. This meant more time for friends and family. My grandma saved the ripe blackberries on the vine for me, leading me to the backyard and showing off this special treat. My grandma never sent the delicate blackberries on cross-country journeys, but never hesitated to dig around the thorny bushes to pick out the most perfect berry for me.
The herb garden and grape vines constantly supplied our kitchen. The mint went wild, loving its location in the sun and taking over a good portion of the garden. She used this freshly in salads like fattoush and tabouli or dried in dressings and hatzig banir, the Armenian grilled cheese I ate every day after school. Along the mint grew parsley, another herb used in all sorts of ways in Armenian cooking. I remember strolling through the garden growing up, picking and eating herbs straight from the dirt. Contrary to most peoples’ expectations, we didn’t really eat the grapes off of the grape vines. They tasted super sour and had huge seeds which made them cumbersome to eat. Instead, my grandma harvested the leaves and used them in sarma, stuffed grape leaves.
Now that I live away from home, I don’t really have space for a garden in my apartment.
My grandma’s garden taught me to always appreciate the outdoors, take care of nature and give fruit as a sign of love. I miss the ready access I had to seasonal fruits and vegetables offered by my grandma’s garden. I miss spending time with family in the backyard, picking tangerines or mint while catching up with one another. I miss the Armenian food my grandma makes with the freshest ingredients possible. Reminiscing on the good times in the garden always reminds me to take time in nature, something even more important to remember with summer around the corner! I’ll get back home soon enough, just in time to taste the sweet blackberries that mean summer.