AS the madeleine did for Proust, the taste or scent of quince jelly can move me, in memory, to the house on Sycamore Street where, in the backyard, there were two ancient and gnarled quince trees and a cherry tree. The quince trees were half as tall as the cherry, with low, spreading boughs that accommodated swings. My sister and I didn't use them for swinging; we considered that they were our reading seats.
Generally we ate as we read, at least out of doors. After school we came through the kitchen, stopping to get stale bread; my mother always seemed to have a large supply; candies and cookies were never available.
We crunched and gnawed away in great content, shaking down the pink and white blossoms as we read each spring and waiting for the golden fruit that would be ours in the autumn.
Often we climbed the cherry tree and ate the cherries while reading. Later we sat there eating apples. We never ate the bread there, and we always, always salted the apple. This required one limb wide enough and level enough to hold the saltshaker.
Since the tree held only one reader, the other climbed out the barn window onto the shed roof. It was near enough so that I could read delightful portions aloud to my sister, who said she preferred reading the book herself, thank you, and please to keep still!
The origin of our eating choices is obscure, but the reader on the roof always ate stalks of rhubarb dipped into a sugar bowl. We never ate anything else on that roof that I can remember, likely because of the sugar bowl.
In the autumn we moved back to the swings under the quince trees. The green skin of the fruit turns golden then, but we never waited until they were ripe enough to slice as Lear's owl and pussycat properly did, eating with a runcible spoon. We ate them from their first furry green, hard, and puckery-sour state.
The builder of this very old house must have planted those unusual trees. They were the only specimens in our town, and people came year after year to ask if they might have enough for jelly. My mother was pleased to give them and warned that they required much sugar.
I do not recall eating anything during our winter reading. We were content then to devour whole series of books with our feet on the register or deposited in chairs as we reclined on the floor.
We read, in those carefree years, cocooned in time - time that has ever since seemed in shorter supply.