All it took was 7 lbs of Cherries, my canner, a box of jelly jars and looking out my kitchen window towards Mt. Elizabeth and I am soaring back 54 years. Way, way back, but it seems like just yesterday that I was in the kitchen on Berry Rd., in the house where I grew up in Fredonia, NY. It’s not Mt. Lizzie that I saw, but Lake Erie off in the distance. Once again I am 10 years old and with my Mom and Grandma Burchett. Mom is 40 years old and so pretty with her wavy dark brown hair. Grandma is 80 and her thinning sliver hair is drawn back in a bun at her neck. Grams face is tranquil, pleasant but always with a quiet hint of sadness. We are all wearing aprons. Aprons that Gram made at her old treadle sewing machine. Aprons that she made for us kids to give Mom for gifts for her birthday and Christmas. A treadle sewing machine where Gram taught me to sew. Mom is at the stove heating water in the canner so we will can the Cherries not made into jam. Gram is seated at our old maple kitchen table with a huge mound of cherries in a bowl in front of her. It is summer. That time of the year when we harvest, preserve, can, dry or freeze all that Dad’s huge garden provides us. Today, the kitchen counter is lined with jelly jars. lids, rings and a huge sack of sugar because today we are making Cherry Jam! Cherries picked from our own big trees. Trees that I climb every chance I get. Shimmying up the trunk to the first branch and tossing my leg up and around it until I can pull myself up, over and finally upright. I was a tough, agile little monkey back then and climbing trees was such fun! Leaning out over the branches, I would pick and pick until my little quart baskets were full.
Cherries from Tonasket, Washington $ 1.75 / lb picked
Summers for me meant a lot of freedom and play. Games like Kick the Can, SPUD. Freeze tag and always a softball game or shooting basketball hoops across the street with the Swank kids. But at our house it also meant work. A lot of work. While other kids. non farm kids or town kids were at the playground or away at camp, I was shucking peas, or snapping beans for freezing. Picking black raspberries was a July chore. Hot, sticky, trying to dodge the thorns but always ending up with arms covered in scratches. But boy oh boy were those Black Raspberries delicious! We weeded the gardens and brought back to the kitchen baskets and bushels and arm loads of whatever was ripe. We’d sit outside hulling Strawberries and often times, the neighbor kids would come over checking to see if we could play. When the answer was “no,” they’d many times sit with us snapping beans or shucking those peas. I remember so much talk, laughter and story telling. Throwing peas and beans at each other and downing great mouthfuls of sweet, succulent berries.
Over the long hot summers without air conditioning, unless you counted the breezes coming off Lake Erie, we canned or froze Strawberries, Blueberries, Cherries, Peaches, Pears, Apples, Grapes and Beans, Peas,Tomatoes and more. Many of the fruits were transformed into delectable jams and jellies. Dad also grew Potatoes, Onions, Swiss Chard, Spinach, Cantaloupe and Corn. We never ate “fancy” but we sure ate well.
My water bath canner heating up my already steaming hot house.
It may have been work, but looking back I remember the feelings of love, security, family and trust and never once realizing in my innocence that everyone did not live as we did in the big house on Berry Rd.
But today we are making Cherry Jam and I am with my Mom and Grandma as they set a rhythm born of many, many years of experience. And I am smiling and happy because I am included in this, their process and this, their love. The two of them know each other so well and have repeated this process so often over the years that “how to” is not needed and there is little conversation just the gentle rhythm of the years. Gram pits the Cherries with my “help.” Mom is washing and sterilizing jars. The Paraffin wax pan is on the back burner. Sugar is measured. Cherries are chopped using an old doubled bladed knife in a huge old wooden bowl.
5 cups of finely chopped Cherries as per the time tested recipe
The Cherries are in the kettle with the sugar and being brought to a rolling boil that can’t be stirred down. Pectin is added and boiled again for 1 minute. Jars that have been lined up on the counter are filled. Paraffin is poured on top of the jam to seal the jars and the jars are set aside to work their magic and become Cherry Jam. Cherry Jam that in the middle of January, spread on a slice of fresh hot homemade bread is ambrosia! And now the jars are lined up on the kitchen counter. The sunlight shining on them makes the jam sparkle like dark red Garnets.
Freshly made Cherry Jam on warm buttered bread.
I look up and once again I am back in my kitchen here in the back of the beyond and Mt. Elizabeth fills my window view. I love canning and preserving the fruits of our labor. There is something so soul satisfying about growing and consuming food you have produced. But there is much more to it. It is carrying on a tradition started generations ago. A way of connecting with my past and honoring my ancestors and hoping some little girl somewhere, will want to be in the kitchen with her Grandma, making Cherry Jam.
I never knew. Never ever knew that as a 10 year old standing in the kitchen on Berry Rd., on a foot stool to reach the kitchen sink, wearing an apron that dragged on the floor, being with my Mom and Grandma…..I never knew that I was making memories. Memories that would last a lifetime.
Thanks so much for stopping by today. Wherever your journey leads you today, my wish is that you are making new memories. Memories that will last a lifetime.
Hugs and much love from me.
PS: Please stop by my website at : www.thejourneygirl.com and leave me a comment. I love hearing from you all!
Carolyn Bach-Schultz says
Lovely story, you write so well! <3
Sharon Paz says
Karen, this story took me back to my childhood days on Bird Ave. in Buffalo. There I learned to cook and bake with my Grandma Rizzo. As you were describing the canning process I was reliving my Grandma teaching me to make sauce and meatballs. With my mom and grandma learning to make Italian cookies and cannoli. Thank you for that journey back in time.
P.S. I’m off FB for a while….my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and phone 716-207-9873 if you need to contact me. Otherwise, I’ll be in touch on your blog.
Have a great 4th