By Joe Rector
Amy and I moved into our house in December 1978. This year, for the first time, I put out tomato plants. The funny thing is I’m not that much in love with them, but in the summer the produce does taste good. I’ve babied the plants and staked them and then tied them up. To date, about 6-7 green orbs are hanging on the vine, and I’m in hopes they turn red and are ready to eat before rabbits or insects devour them.
All this leads to my missing the foods that Mother used to “fix” when I was a boy. She had a green thumb with all sorts of plants, and maybe she was more successful with them because she stuck them in the dirt, tamped them in with her tennis shoe, and left them alone. Whatever the reason, she used the bounty from Mother Nature to make some of the best tasting things I’ve ever had.
Every summer, she loaded us boys up, and we traveled to one of several blackberry fields. For some time we picked berries and suffered sticks and scratches from briars. The juice stained our fingers, and unfortunately, chiggers burrowed under our skin. At home, Mother washed the berries and then took most of them and began the process of boiling the juice out to make jelly. She kept a few back to make cobbler. It arrived to the table hot from the oven and disappeared quickly.
In the back yard we had several grape vines. Mother would send us out early in the morning to pick grapes. We dodged wasps that dive-bombed us and grudgingly carried out the chore. Of course, after delivering the grapes, we were more than willing to eat the grape jelly that she made.
We also had a cherry tree, peach tree, pear tree, and apple trees. Mother took the fruits from all those trees and made pies and jelly. She made the dough and layered fruit with butter, brown sugar, and spices before topping the pies with more dough. Then she placed 4-6 pies into an oversized oven, and the aroma filled the house.
Mother’s garden was filled with vegetables for canning or freezing. She picked beans until her back and hands ached. We’d sit outside or in front of the television and break beans by the bushels. Then she would wash them and sterilized dozens of Mason jars before stuffing them with “half-runners” or “bush beans.” If the garden didn’t produce enough, she’d make a trip to the market on Dale Avenue for a couple of bushels. Ears of corn were picked and shucked. Kernels were cut from the cobs and packaged into bags before being placed into a freezer that looked too much like a giant coffin.
Other things were prepared as well. Green peppers were cut and frozen; hot peppers were sewn on strings and hung for future use. Potatoes were grubbed, scrubbed, and stored on the ledges in the basement. Squash was also gathered and frozen.
Cucumbers were plentiful. Mother cut many for supper, but I never ate them. My father-in-law said that they were the only thing that a hog wouldn’t eat, and I agreed with the assessment. However, many of them were gathered and put into jars. Then what I call “pickle water” was boiled and poured over them, and the jars were sealed. Dozens lined a shelf in the basement until they were properly aged. I had no problems eating those.
Heads of cabbage were chopped, and Mother prepared the stuff in some way before filling a five-gallon crock. The entire thing was set outside under our bedroom window and allowed to “perk.” Jim and I sneaked to the crock and lifted the lid, an unfortunate action that allowed the foul odor escape from what would at some point be kraut.
All of the food that Mother prepared was eaten during the winter months. By the time the next spring arrived, the freezer was nearly bare, and empty jars cluttered the basement. One of the certain things in life was replenishing of those foods would occur each year.
Mother passed in 1996, and for nearly 20 years, I’ve longed for a jar of blackberry jelly and a Dutch apple pie, and a cherry cobbler. When the time comes when I leave this world, I hope to meet up with her and ask her to fix some of those wonderful foods once again.