Thursday, July 18, 2013

Antique Strawberry Preserves - Part I - The Story

I am enjoying my new kitchen and the brief strawberry harvest.  Even though there was too much rain, the berries are plump and soft.  They are like clouds that melt on my tongue with the taste of flowers.  I really - really - love strawberries.  Do you see my new kitchen window?  I have basil, chimes, a view, and of course wine. 

As I gaze at the mountains and contemplate my strawberries, I get nostalgic.  Of course I do.  That's like my second most common feeling.  (Sigh)  I would put a winky emoticon here, but that seems weird.  No?  Ok.  ; )

Strawberries give me flashbacks to my childhood.  I don't mean pretty memories, I mean full-bodied, sensation-filled experiences.  I picked strawberries in my grandmother's garden.  We washed and capped them, and she worked magic on the stove that turned piles of sweet gems into preserves.  The house smelled of this magic for days. 

One day she told me that the recipe was actually simple and that her mother's mother's mother was the one who wrote it.  As a little kid, it didn't mean much.  But recently I've been thinking that 100 years ago, and all the generations since, family members could have loved breathing in the sweet hot steam as much as I do now.  That's connection.

Tomorrow I'd like to share the simple recipe that brings me so much joy, but today I'd like to tell the story of the people who brought it to me.  These are my ancestors in the late 1800's.  My (literally) Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Collins is the matriarch of this family.  She's the severe lady wearing black.  I, of course, never met her.  But my family has children young, so I actually did know Pearl, my Great-Great-Grandmother.  She's the oldest daughter wearing the white shirt.  She hated wearing black, could find beauty in the simplest things, enjoyed being silly, and loved children.  She also loved strawberries.  When she was 17 she ran away from home to marry a man she knew the family didn't approve of.  The way they gaze at each other in this picture is timeless.  I keep thinking, if she had listened to her parents and hadn't run away, I wouldn't exist.   

She lived to be 98.  I would like to sit with her now to hear about her childhood, her love, the western logging camps, raising children on a farm, and how she reconciled with her family.  Unfortunately, either all kids are self-absorbed, or I was, because I didn't ask her about those things when I was a child.  Now, I think we would have been a lot alike.  (That's her.  That's me.  I'm six, and my bright purple pants are kick-ass.)

I am planning to ask more questions about her since I have family members who might still remember.  If I find out anything juicy I'll let you know.  And if you are curious about the way her fresh preserves tasted at the turn of the 20th century...check in tomorrow.

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