Monday, August 27, 2012
Yesterday as I was standing in line at OSH to buy another set of jam jars, the lovely lady in front of me turned around, caught a glimpse of me, and her eyes lit up. "Making jam?" she asked with a bob of her white-haired head. I told her yes, the purple plum tree was ready to be harvested, at which point her equally lovely husband turned around and asked with great interest "You have fruit trees?" I told him the trees actually belong to my dad, but yes: two apricots, two white plum, one purple plum, an apple and a pear. They looked at each other and smiled.
She told me she has been canning "all her life," and that this year she "put up" peach, apricot, strawberry, and pineapple jam, as well as loads of canned peaches and tomatoes. You know someone is a hard-core preserver when they call it "putting up." We launched into an enthusiastic conversation about the best ways to can (she told me conspiratorially that she has been jamming apricots for years without lemon juice, which is a big no-no, but she has figured out how to do it carefully enough to avoid botulism, and since she's the only one eating it, it doesn't really matter anyways *wink*) and she told me that I should "cold pack" my tomatoes this year.
At one point in our hurried conversation (the line was moving fast at OSH) she said "It sounds silly, but I get the best feeling when I open my pantry and see all those jars and jars of preserves that I made. It makes me feel proud." I assured her that I don't think there is ANYTHING silly about that feeling - I get it myself with each new batch of jam. Then she told me a story about her friend's mother who lived during the depression. She had preserved all of their summer produce - jamming, pickling, and canning everything in order to have food to last through the fall and winter, since there was no money to buy food. Then a tragedy happened: the top wooden shelf holding the glass jars broke and all the contents fell down, taking each lower shelf down with it, until everything was left in a shattered inedible mess on the ground. She said that the family still talks about "the disaster" to this day - it is the stuff of legend: the day the harvest was lost. It made me think about how fortunate I am - I love to preserve the things we grow, and grow the things we eat, but I don't have to do it. If I run out of something I can just buy it at the store. Heck, we can drive through McDonald's if I get real crazy.
Probably the best part of my whole encounter with this woman was immediately realizing in her a kindred spirit. She was just as excited as me about making jam, asked me all the questions I would have asked her, and left with a smile on her face as big as mine. I know a lot of people who have made jam, but this was the first time I've met someone who gets all starry-eyed when thinking about the contents of her pantry. I love that something as simple as picking a bucket-full of plums and cooking them can bond two complete strangers with a 30-year age difference. And the icing on top of it all? I heard her tell her husband that I was "as cute as a button" as they were walking away. Nobody has ever called me cute as a button before. I don't think I will ever forget that woman - even find myself wishing I had come up with a way to see her again, maybe get a few pointers on canning my tomatoes.