My Great-grandfather, King David Harris, built a two story house for my Great-grandmother. It sat a few hundred yards from the Little Satilla River and near two natural springs. It was the only two story house on the riverside, that is, near the river. But he died at an early age and she moved to town to run a boarding house eventually selling the farm. In time my Grand Parents bought the farm back. By then the house was uninhabitable. They moved into a smaller “shotgun” house closer to the new county road. By the time I was born all that remained of the original house was “the old kitchen” which sat at the edge of a cornfield. Kitchens use to be built as separate buildings attached to the house by a breezeway in case of a fire. My Grandfather used the old building as a storage shed.
In front of the old kitchen were two large pear trees my great-grandparents had planted. They were loaded down with pears every year. Most of them fell to the ground and were eaten by the hogs and cows that were turned into the field after the corn was harvested. When I was very young I would go with my mother to the old fruit trees and help her pick some of the best pears for jam. It was an annual family project: Mom, Shirley and me. When we were very young Jimmy would peal the pears while Shirley and I took turns at the grater. Each pear was scrapped down to the core creating a pear sauce ready to be cooked into jam. I loved that jam.
When I got a little older Mom figured out how much I loved the jam. We would be visiting my grandparents and she would tempt me, “Jackie, if you’ll go pick some pears, we’ll make jam when we get home.” I knew where Grandpa kept his Croker sacks and down the path I went. When I had picked all I could carry I would stumble back up the path to the house. That night I would help peal and grate and never complain, after all it was all for me or so I thought.
Dad never helped in these projects. He would plant a garden, tend it, harvest it and help shuck and shell, but once the stove was turned on his job was over. The only thing I ever saw my Dad do in the kitchen was get the ice. Ice was his culinary specialty. There was one exception when I was about fourteen. Mom was making some kind of jam. It was on the stove just beginning to boil when she heard the washing machine out of balance in the garage. Dad was walking by at the fortuitous moment and Mom drafted him to stir the mixture while she ran out to the garage.
I passed by the kitchen and almost fainted. There was Dad standing over the stove, stirring jam. I lingered to take in the sight when all of a sudden there was a “pow” and jam was shot up to the ceiling. He kept stirring and Mom ran back into the kitchen to see what happened.
There stood Dad, still stirring. She bellowed out, “Ellis, what did you do?”
“Nothing, Teen. Just what you told me. All I’ve done is stir.”
She grabbed the pot and poured the jam into jars. It was clear some was dripping through the bottom of the pot. Upon inspection we discover a hole in the pot where electricity had shot from the element upward. I have no idea how the circuit was completed without killing my Dad, but I do know it was many years before I saw him standing over a stove.
Eventually, my Grandfather brought a shoot from the old pear trees up to his house. When Dad retired he brought a shoot from that tree to his house. I got a shoot from him and the tree is loaded down this year. Several years ago when my pear tree had its first full crop, I decided to make pear jam. It was just the way I remembered it, only I use a blender rather than a hand grater. I don’t make it every year. A drought got the pears one year and a late freeze got them one year. Last year I made a couple of batches because the squirrels beat me to most of the pears. I’m hopeful about this crop.
In recent years Cheryl has taken an interest in making homemade jellies and jams. It all started as a project to make grape jelly with one or both of our girls several years ago. They went to a vineyard and picked the grapes, brought them home and made the jelly. It was great and they decided to make it an annual mother/daughter project only someone forgot to tell them that “annual” meant once each year. Each spring Cheryl would begin talking about making grape jelly that summer. My usual retort was, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” I don’t think they have made grape jelly since that first year.
However, Cheryl did start making blueberry jam. We have an abundance of berries every year. I’m the primary picker and kitchen helper. A couple of years ago I suggested we make some peach jam and I have found myself once again the chief peeler and dicer. This year we plan to add apple butter to our venue, once the apples get ripe.
I’m not certain what sense of fulfillment Cheryl gets out of being a domestic diva; I enjoy the nostalgia and the pleasure of giving some of the fruit of our labor to others. I also relish the flavor and quality of our products. We are never without good jam. But the best part of it all is doing something creative with Cheryl. I enjoy these projects and I am thankful for them.
Just call us Ma and Pa Johns, but not to our face, if you know what's good for you; jam I mean.
July 10, 2010