Last 4th of July I began my independence from sugar.
I went to the parade on Avenue A, the street where I grew up. The parade began with my generation, in the thick of the centennial spirit of the mid-seventies. One year I wore the bridesmaid gown I wore at my uncle’s wedding. The next year, I wore a vest and knickers and played my tonette like a fife; in my pixie cut I was the perfect boy imp, ready to do all the things I knew about the Revolution: play Paul Revere, be the teenage boy who fought in the field, throw tea in Boston Harbor.
My son Felix rode in the parade last year, decorating his bike with star spangled glitters. My other son Francis was hiking in the Adirondacks. My husband Jack was working. After the parade I sat on the deck at my sister’s house, eating snacks and hot dogs and chatting with one of my parent’s neighbors.
Ernie is in his eighties and he made a delicious carrot cake. The cream cheese frosting was perfect, thick and buttery and not too sweet. I ate two pieces, claiming Felix ate most of the first, which I am sure was not true because he rarely eats much of anything. Ernie promised to give me the recipe.
I took Felix to another pie. The day was hot, just like this year, and I focused on staying hydrated. I downed a few glasses of lemonade, and after another round of hot dogs, once dessert rolled around again, I took a good share of my berry crumble, and the other desserts on offer.
The next day I was ruined. I hadn’t thought about how much sugar I was eating, and it was way way too much. I felt hungover, but more than that. I’d quit drinking because this kind of energy drain sapped me. The kind of thing that no napping could cure. The kind of thing that made me not be able to say words in the order I wanted – I was really physically disorganized.
So gradually I let go of sweets. I cut out the bonafide stuff first – ice cream and cookies and cake – but clung to the lifeboat of dried fruit as if it would save me. After a month and a half of that gambling, I realized it wasn’t working either. I was still surfing with food, bringing myself up and down with sugar.
By the end of August, I was okay without sugar. Mostly, I don’t mind not eating sweets. I ate an awful lot of them my whole life. The harder part is not nibbling while baking. That killed my motivation to bake at Christmas, I admit.
People feel guilty eating dessert when I’m around, but in general, I don’t feel deprived. I had a good long run with sugar. Sure, I would love to have ice cream every day of this boiled summer. And every now and again, I can have a little taste of sweets – like Monday, I made a serviceberry pie and I could not resist.
Thursday, I went to the avenue for the 4th of July parade. Jack and Francis worked outside, and Felix rode a bike so small he looked like a clown act. Ernie came with his carrot cake and said, “Weren’t you the one who wanted the recipe?”
He’d written it out on a big index card, and I felt a big surge as he handed it to me. I’d forgotten that this was an anniversary for me and sweets. I took the card from him, of course, and asked if there were any special tricks. He didn’t need to know my story, and I wanted to continue the connection we’d made.
“I don’t measure the carrots,” he said. I asked how many he used, and he laughed. “Enough,” he told me.
While he said I could share the recipe with anyone, he also said his son considered it a legacy, and told him not to share it. So I won’t. Instead, I’ll share this.
Sugar is a devil. I should not glaze over the hold it’s had on my life. The difference between last year and this is that I no longer feel compelled by sweets. I don’t think about when my next piece of chocolate is coming. This is a huge deal. I used to eat bittersweet chocolate at 8 a.m. because it helped fuel me in my writing. I like that I don’t have that leash anymore. It was quite a distraction.
Even though I can’t eat much dessert anymore, I can still bond with recipes and baking. Here’s my formula for serviceberry pie. Thanks for inspiration on the filling to Dorie Greenspan’s blueberry pie recipe – and to my son Francis for his intro to the fruit in the first place. (I wrote more about me and serviceberries on my own blog, in a post called Bike Ride Pie.)
RECIPE: SERVICEBERRY PIE
INGREDIENTS: for the crust
- 2 cups white spelt flour (mine was from Small Valley Milling, a farm and mill in Pennsylvania)
- ½ cup butter
- 1 tsp salt
- about a ½ cup ice water, maybe less
INGREDIENTS: for the filling
- 5 cups serviceberries (also called Juneberries or Saskatoon berries)
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 TBSP lemon juice
- 1 tsp vanilla
- ½ tsp salt
- To make the crust, mix the flour and salt. Cut the butter into tablespoons, and cut those into the flour mixture until the butter pieces are pretty small. I use a pastry blender.
- Using a fork, gradually add ice water until the dough comes together nicely. You don’t want it too dry or too wet. Shape two balls and put them in the fridge for at least a half hour to rest.
- To make the filling, mix all ingredients in a bowl and let sit five minutes before pouring into the pie.
- Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 40 minutes, then turn it down to 375 and bake for 15 minutes more. It is okay to stare at the pie’s beautiful blueness for a long time before tasting it. It is also fine to make this pie for someone else and let them love it without you.