Colette's Figs, Chestnuts, and Water-Caltrops

The too cool Colette
In her sorta-kinda-memoir, The Blue Lantern,  Collette writes, as an old woman, about things plump and sweet and lovely, as if she were a young girl—a girl consumed by romantic notions about life's "simple pleasures." This ageless infatuation for all things douce (soft/sweet/gentle) is part of Colette's charm, part of her infectious vision of life as an endlessly exquisite experience, if only you've got your hard-won rose-colored glasses perched just right on your nose. Here are four passages from The Blue Lantern describing small fruits and nuts of the sort you can hold in your palm, the kind of edible treasures naive young girls and wise old women are so incredibly fond of.

First up, the "caltrop" or water chestnut, which "even when cooked . . . still calls to mind the pond where it was born and the mud that nurtured it." (Chapter 7):

Madame Wattine has sent me a parcel of cornel berries. The good old French name for them is macres, or water-caltrops. But cornel sounds more horny, and has the tang of her rural Poix. . . . My appetite for them is as strong as ever. . . . this strange water fruit, of ooze and autumn breed, forms with its four protective horns when fully ripe a shell of very hard texture, definitely "Chinese" in shape according to Fix-Masseau . . . [here she describes the complicated method for opening caltrops] . . . In return for which you will acquire blue-black stains, a couple of damaged fingers, and an attack of marsh fever into the bargain if, as I used to do and am still capable of doing, you eat some four hundered caltrops straight off the real.
"And . . . are they really good?" I am asked by friends deep-dyed with incredulity and circumspection.
I thereupon assume a dreamy, sentimental, and slightly stupid look, in fact become very like the little girl I used to be, and answer "I don't rightly know, but I happen to love them.", tomatoes... (Chapter 8):
"It seems a pity to eat them," said Marcelle Blot.
"You're not compelled to, Marcelle."
All among my collection of paper-weights, tight-stuffed with curlicues, burnt sugar twists, flowers and small insects, Marcell arranged her round, impeccably red tomatoes, with never a crease or a rib on them, the last tomatoes from her Saint-Cloud garden, and with a sigh murmered "Yes, it is compulsory. Because they are good." 
...and a Proustian moment, courtesy of three immature chestnuts... (Chapter 8):
[Two friends] know what it is I long to see and bring it back to me: a hatful of ripening chestnuts and edible mushrooms, to appease my greed. . . [A chestnut husk] is beginning to split and through the cleavage can be seen the gleam of the three light mahogany fruits. By a trick of my peculiarly tenacious memory, I can close my hand over the ligneous twig-tip that held suspended this lovely green sea-urchin and then all I have to do is to clamber up as far as the solid wall of leaves to reach the neighboring pines. Further on it is all sand, birch trees, heather and bramble-bushes laden with berries. Just let me go there, I shall not lose myself. Shut the door of my bedroom. I need nobody to guide me on my walk. All that I needed were these three chestnuts, packed tight in a single half-split-open husk.
...and some figs rushing toward the evanescent moment of perfect ripeness... (Chapter 9):
On each successive day following the appearance of the first fully ripened fig of the second crop, you can count on any number up to a dozen "secondary figs" being ripe and ready to fall into your hand, soft, with inflexed necks, bearing the pheasant's eye mark at their base and on their sides the parallel stripes that crackle their tender skins of mauve and grey. For the first few days you'll not be able to eat your fill. There's little to be said for your appetite if you can't polish off six, ten, or even a dozen figs with the chill of night still upon them; they readily split apart and are as red inside as a pomegranate. They are not as yet runny with their full measure of honey-sweet stickiness, and are so much the easier to put in the mouth.

But the figs multiply with the rapidly increasing rate of maturity. Before the week is out the huge fig tree, the young tree further down, and the contorted tree will all be overwhelmed with ripe fruit, pendent from the neck like the stocking nests of the Haitian Cacique bird. There is no end to them. Every single one deserves to be picked and placed on a wicker tray. Time is of the essence, for by now it is easy to see that in their turn the grapes are insistent on being cut, that the tomatoes have reached the peak of their red lacquer lavishness, and all that remain on the peach trees are the fluffy little pellets destined to become the hard ammunition for children to pelt each other with.

After which the trees will bear no further crop but apples...
(from the translation by Roger Senhouse)

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