“Here’s the ingredient list I used, Pinkie: 18 cups of handpicked gooseberries, the purple variety; seven cups of dark maple syrup; six cups of granulated sugar; and a generous tablespoon of cinnamon.
“Then I just cooked it up, pulverized it with a hand-held food chopper and cooked it some more until it was thick enough to be ladled into sterilized jars. Then, I screwed on the lids and processed the jars in a boiling water bath. I call it Mooseberry Butter.”
Pinkie samples some, spread thinly across a toasted piece of Dempster’s whole-grain bread, wrinkles up his button nose and comments, “A strong flavour, and interesting. I can taste the maple and cinnamon, but if you hadn’t of told me, I’d never have guessed there were gooseberries in it.”
“It was a dangerous operation getting them, Pinkie. Check out these scratches. The damned things have thorns an inch long.”
We’re on Pinkie’s back deck. There are dogs to the north, dogs to the east and dogs to the west, the neighbours’ pets, and Pinkie’s little mutt who’s been smelling his feet.
“I’d never own a dog, not these days,” he remarks.
“Why not?” Pinkie asks.
“You have to look after them, pick up the unmentionables, walk them, groom them, all those things. And my attitude toward dogs probably doesn’t fit with today’s sentiments.”
Pinkie, looks at him, puzzled.
“It doesn’t seem that all that long ago dogs looked after themselves, beyond being supplied with a bit of food, drink and shelter, Pinkie. I’ve never had my own but I had a close acquaintance of two. There was Sponger, named from his propensity to swipe the sponge from the pail my dad used to wash the cows’ udders with. That was his dog. Then there was Patches, a shaggy border collie mix, who belonged to no one but herself. She’d help me fetch the cows, when she was willing.”
“How old were you?” Pinkie asks.
“Six or seven, I suppose.
“Anyway, Patches knew her stuff. If those cows were balky, she’d nip at their heels and they’d move soon enough. She wouldn’t take no guff, from anyone. Go near her food bowl and you’d know it – and the neighbour dogs never bothered her. Not like Sponger. They’d gang on him – but that’s another story.
“The thing I remember best was watching her once, moving with patience and stealth through the long pasture, toward one of the groundhog burrows. Then she darted forwarded, sinking her teeth in and shaking it to break its neck. It was damned near big as she was. That was her prime. “When she got old her hind quarters were near shot. She’d rise on her front feet, drag her bottom along until she could get them moving. She must have been close to 20 that day.”
“What day?” Pinkie asks.
“The day she died. A day like this. I found her, lying on the front porch.” A July long ago, he thinks. Clear sky. The kind of day bare soil felt good between your toes.
“Our cousins were there. They cried. My sisters cried. Real tears.”
“No. No reason to, Pinkie. No reason at all.” ◊