Canned peaches, strawberry jam, and grape jelly. The summer canning season has started and my friends with gardens are busily putting up their bounty. They're also making memories.
Some of my best memories are of my grandmother canning in her kitchen. She was a small, round woman with curly gray hair. Her white enamel Magic Chef – that gas stove really lived up to its name in her kitchen – held steaming pots of water.
Her grape jelly was superb. No Welch's grape juice shortcut for Grandma. She grew her own Concord grapes. We grandkids helped pick the blackberries for her jam, and probably more berries made it into our mouths than into the blackberry baskets. Her strawberry jam set the standard for all future homemade jams, and no one else's has ever measured up to hers.
Grandma's canned vegetables were less thrilling. I had a hard time getting excited about home-grown canned green beans and tomatoes. Home-canned tomatoes made excellent sauces, but stewed tomatoes sprinkled with soggy bits of bread were wretched – a waste of canning shelf space. This was "no dessert until you eat your vegetables" territory, and you won't find me getting sentimental about canned tomatoes.
Grandma's generation had a love for relishes and pickles. China cabinets held infinite numbers of pressed glass, cut-glass and china pickle dishes and relish trays. Grandma's was no exception.
She made cha-cha, which in her part of the country was green tomato relish, and chow chow, another old-fashioned recipe. Her chow chow was mostly red and green tomatoes and onions. Her bread and butter pickles, made with her home-grown cucumbers, were sweet and splendid.
By the time the summer canning season was over, Grandma's basement shelves glowed like jewels with her home-canned handiwork. We enjoyed it until the next canning season.
One of the most poignant scenes in Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series is after Sookie's grandmother is murdered. Sookie wonders whether she should eat the last of jar of her grandmother's grape jelly.
I faced that same dilemma after Grandma died. If I ate that last jar, then I would lose that connection.
Like Sookie, I ate Grandma's grape jelly.
Sure, it was gone. But I still have the memories.