Years ago, before my momma passed, I found wild strawberries as I went to check the spring. Of course, I forgot all about checking the water and ran to get a butter bowl from the house. An hour later, I had about a third of a bowl of uncapped berries, enough for a little pot of jam to go with pancakes.
Pleased with my find, I took them to show momma. She tasted a few, commented on how rare they were now, then burst my proud little bubble.
She told me that the summer before I started kindergarten, she and my granny picked enough to make 98 pints of freezer jam. For those that have never eaten wild strawberries, a huge one is about the size of your thumbnail. I took my now pitiful little bowl of strawberries and went home.
I remember picking strawberries with Momma and Granny. The most important thing was don’t spill them. That got you yelled at and/or swatted on the butt. Also, you had to watch for snakes, bees nests, and poison ivy, not necessarily in that order. It was hot and scratchy out in the weeds, so a long sleeved shirt was required.
Now the pastures are overgrown and the power line cuts are sprayed with herbicide. Fields of wild strawberries are a thing of the past. A few still grow around my house. I can pick a a couple as I walk by, and remember. Most days, that’s enough.
I come from a long line of farmers. My family grew tobacco for a cash crop, hay and corn to feed the livestock, and a big garden to feed ourselves. My momma preserved everything she grew or foraged to feed us through the winter.
This weekend, I had the privilege of passing some of this knowledge down to my niece. She grew an abundance of habanero peppers and wanted to make pepper jelly. I personally don’t care for spicy food, but she likes it, so off we went!
The recipes she picked were a plain pepper jelly and a pepper marmalade. Both were new to me, so it was a learning experience for both of us. The marmalade made the house smell divine, oranges and spices bringing to mind Christmas.
Although it was quite a bit of work, chopping and stirring and peeling, there was also the sheer pleasure of creating and passing of traditions from one generation to the next.
In three generations, we’ve gone from mamma preserving from necessity, to me preserving to stay closer to my roots and have a bit of extra food, to my niece growing and preserving simply because she wants to.
In the end, we made 28 pints of marmalade and 15 half pints of pepper jelly. Yes, she could probably have made a dash to the grocery store and bought something similar. It would be much easier. This way, she has the satisfaction of doing it herself, and memories of a day spent with her aunt, listening to tales of her granny.