I am not sure if you have heard the word ghaghore or know what it is. One of the things I miss about home is the anticipation of seasonal fruits in the spring and the way each was presented for sale.
One of the first signs of spring in Mashad was the sight of a red cart full of ghaghore pushed around by a short man. He would arrange the pearly white fruit in circles according to size and would only sell you a mix of pieces rather than all of one kind. Tasting the crunchy texture of a juicy white sour ghaghore was a pleasant way to welcome spring and look forward to sweeter times ahead.
Strawberries and chaaghaale badom (fresh young almonds) would be next. As I walked down the street, I could tell that the strawberry man had been around. The aroma of red ripe berries would fill the street and linger in the air long after he had passed by. He treated the delicate ripe strawberries with utmost care and arranged each one row after row in a ja'beh shirini (candy box). He would carefully place the cover on and tie it with red and white twine. He always made sure one knew not to shake the box after he offered some fresh kaakoti (a wild herb indigenous to the Mashad area used with yoghurt) for sale. He had picked them himself from streams near by.
Fruit sellers always arranged their fruits and vegetables artisticly and displayed everything with a lot of flare. With the arrival of sour cherries, bing cherries, tiny sour green plums and golden apricots with red blushes, the displays became works of art. Mixing and matching colors, textures and sizes coupled with the aroma of tree-ripened fruit, played havoc with all of your senses.
My neighborhood shopkeeper would place a table right in front of the shop, drape a fancy piece of cloth over it and place a large round tray full of white mulberries on the table. The mulberries would be arranged in a mound and decorated with red and pink geranium placed on top and around the tray. As one walked by, you could taste the sweetness by the shiny glaze on the mulberries in the early morning sun. After each sale, flowers would be rearranged and the shape perfected once more. In the afternoon the table in the front would be replaced by clay jugs of different sizes against the wall. each jug's opening covered by a tiny colorful cloth, indicating that the farmers have brought in the days pick of juicy raspberries red mulberries to the city.
I remember years ago, when I was a young girl, we would spend some of our summer holidays with my grandma in a large old-fashioned house. Early in the summer usually after lunch everyone would find a cool shady spot in the large garden and take a nap — which meant that as children we had to be quiet for a few hours during the best time of the day for play!
With my younger brother and older uncles we would try to catch sparrows with baskets, feed the goldfish in the pond and sneak away trays of not-quite-dried lavaashak (fruit leather) from the sunny side of the garden while pretending that we are also napping along with everyone!
The stillness of the cool lazy afternoon usually was broken by the sound of the khashkhaash (poppy seeds) vendor's cow bells passing by our house. My grandma would give us some money, reluctantly, and we would run out to buy some fresh khashkhaash, always looking for the biggest and the ones that made the most noise when shaken. We would break the light brown pods and pour the gray poppy seeds into a large blue bowl, add some sugar and have a feast.
Later in the afternoon, when everyone had their tea, my grandma would bring a basket of kahoo (romaine lettuce) and place it on a pretty, colorful, cloth as we sat around and marveled at the beautiful contrast of dark green and bright yellow leaves. while the sweet syrup was running down our cheeks, we would eye the golden center of each half kaahoo as we ate the outer leaves, saving the best for last.
Khaarak (young dates) was another fruit we could not wait for to ripe in July or August. We would eat the small green pods from April on and keep looking up at the trees to see how big they have gotten. We would be eating them as soon as a touch of yellow appeared on it. While waiting for Khaarak , we would claim our choice Konaar trees which were plenty in Ahvaz. We began eating tham as soon as the dark green pods had changed color and continue till they had dried and deep red. I know of no one who grew up in the south did not love Konaar as a child.
Before going back to school and return to Ahvaz from our summer visits to Arak, Mashad and Tabriz, we always stayed in Tehran for a few weeks. Most days were spent having lunches and dinners with relatives and friends. I remember the enclosed backyard of a family friend quite well. From the second floor balcony looking down, all one could see was the bright orange fruits of the persimmon trees, most not quite ripe for eating. It never stopped me from moving from one tree to the next to find a perfectly ripe one to eat and a few to take back to Ahvaz.
The aboundance of large colorful fruits, weighing down branches and moving in the wind, reminds me of the pomegranate trees we saw passing through Qom on our way back to Ahvaz and that our summer vacation was almost over.
About the author
xAle (maternal aunt in Persian) is an old timer who grew up in Iran when words such as mirAb, mAyeh khamir, Ab-anbAr and hAvan were part of daily life. Through stories and remembrances of old days, she will be sharing with us part of our past.
* Also by Laleh Khalili:
– Loving an Iranian man