Connections are important to me. One of the ways I maintain links with my parents and grandparents is to do something they did, not always with the greatest success. My father was skilled in many household tasks. He was a steamfitter by trade so he knew all about plumbing; but he also could repair cars, lamps, and appliances. I once tried to fix a steam iron and when I put it back together there were a few pieces left over. That should have been my first clue. When I tried to use it, the plug melted. End of iron. I had a similar outcome when I tried to level the legs of a dining room table.
I do, however, have my Pop’s ability to enjoy a good football game, to play cards with a serious purpose (especially if money is involved), and to pump my own gas. I learned that skill was I was about 10, and my reward for pumping a customer’s gas at Horrigan Brothers’ Garage was a free soda from the Coke machine. Those were the days!
My mother and both grandmothers spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Specifically, in the late summer they could be found knee deep in canning jars, slaving over a hot stove. My mother’s canned pears were the best, subtly flavored by a single cinnamon stick standing tall in the clear glass jar. When a neighbor brought her a bushel of pears, I knew we were in for a hot day in the kitchen, but weeks of sweet treats in the winter.
The other thing I remember vividly is her strawberry jam. We had to pick the berries of course. Something about the jewel-like color of the finished jam made it wondrous to behold. Ladling a hefty spoonful onto ordinary toast made for a gourmet treat. She made lots of other jams and jellies, and having a sweet tooth, I liked them best of all the home-canned products.
I don’t make jelly often; but this year’s bumper crop of crabapples made me dig out the jelly jars from the dusty bottom shelf of the pantry. I checked the date on the few jars left from the last batch -- August 11, 2007. I guess I was saving them for some special occasion that never came.
I harvested three pounds of ripe crabapples, washed and chopped them. Their skins are a deep pink color and their insides are full of tiny little seeds.
The boiled fruit is strained so the seeds do not spoil the jelly. You could never pick them all out anyway. The fruit is boiled with water for 25 minutes and the mash is ladled into a pillowcase (or cheesecloth if you prefer) and hung over a bowl to strain.
The next day, it’s time to boil the juice with sugar until it "jells." My mother could tell when it was ready by sliding if off a spoon. I use a candy thermometer. Then the jelly goes into jars and is processed in a water bath for five minutes. That’s all there is to making crabapple jelly.
Mine is cooling now on the counter, and I am pretty proud of the way those jars look. I’ll never be able to replicate the amount of canned goods put up by my Grandmas. They lived all winter on what they had put by. Preserving summer’s bounty was not an option for them. They didn’t toddle off to the market when they felt like it. They looked in the pantry or the root cellar and made a meal from what they had.
I admire their tremendous energy and their skill; but I have no desire or need to live off the land. I only wish I could invite them over for breakfast and serve them toast with my homemade jelly. I think they would enjoy it. It isn’t only jelly in those jars; it’s a lifetime of memories captured in that sweet pink jiggle.
Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.