By Rick Houser –
It is funny what things we remember as we grow older. You would think they would mostly be the big events that have happened to us but I have learned that it is just the opposite for me. I have talked before about how we raised a lot of strawberries and Mom made a lot of preserves. Also, I would pick a lot of blackberries and Mom would make jelly. In the winter time if we ran low on those two items, Mom would buy grape jelly that came in jars that made dandy drinking glasses.
With the back breaking work of the strawberries done and Mom having made upwards to 125 quarts, the pantry shelves were headed toward her goal of going into the end of summer with the shelves completely full. Shortly after strawberries came the time to go out on the farm where the blackberries were and pick until your fingers were black from the stain. Before the berries ripened I would take the tractor with the bush hog attached and locate the most bountiful patches and bush hog around them and maybe even make a path or two into them so the picking would be a little easier.
Next I would look through Mom’s rag bags for a long sleeved shirt that had seen its better days. In those days we always had a rag bag as Mom was not one to purchase paper products very much. I have polished my shoes with an old sock and I have washed my car with torn up pieces of underwear. I have even helped wash windows or dust furniture with parts of a shirt or a sock. I’m certain we weren’t the only family to use the rag bag but I think my my Mom got the most out of her rag bag as she got the most out of just about everything she could use, over and over and over. (Not kidding about this.)
When I checked on the berries and saw they were ready I put on that long sleeve shirt and my ball cap and collected containers to hold the harvest and a good pail to carry into the patch. You wanted a light and yet sizable pail when moving into a berry patch, although how you looked was anything but important. Blackberries have wicked thorns and lots of them. The sleeves on the shirt helped you from having your arms looking like you came in second in a cat fight, and if you were allergic to poison ivy they helped there too. No matter how many berries there were the process was the same to me. Slow! Berries can only be picked one at a time and no matter their size filling the pail was time consuming.
The first few pails I picked with great enthusiasm, but as the sun warmed you up in that long sleeved shirt and thorns began to find their way in to your hands and arms and when I saw something slither along the ground through the patch, my desire for a blackberry pie seemed to fade away. Taking a break now and then helped but eventually I would yield to the elements and the not-so-friendly surroundings and take what I had picked to the house with the oath to myself that I would return the next day and pick even more than I had that day. Sometimes I did.
When I handed over my gatherings to Mom she gladly began the process of making jelly but always kept out enough berries for at least two big pies which was an immediate reward for doing battle with the blackberry bushes. Since the blackberries didn’t stretch as far as the strawberries Mom would make the jelly in pint jars while the strawberries were in a quart jar. Also, there still weren’t as many jars to put on her shelves. This meant that the strawberry preserves dominated being on the kitchen table. For a change of pace she would open a jar of the grape jelly (maybe one with a Flintstone character on the glass), because the blackberry jelly was for special occasions only, times when a lot of family was there such as Christmas or Thanksgiving. One thing for certain was that jelly didn’t last long, but in my opinion it was the best tasting of any preserve or jelly.
One thing was certain and that was there was always a jar of jelly or preserves on Mom’s kitchen table and there was always bread or a roll nearby to spread it on. I think if one of us kids whined that we were hungry between a meal she told us which drawer the table knives were in and we knew full well how to spread it on the bread.
As I have said before, people often stopped in our house to visit for one reason or another and I doubt there was a person who wasn’t offered a slice of bread and preserves. My Mom acted like she hadn’t done her job if she didn’t offer people something to eat and drink. usually her sweet iced tea. (Between the preserves or jelly and the tea, they got more sugar than needed for a daily intake.) Moms’ secret ingredient!
After a time, I got tired of these homemade sweets. What I wouldn’t give now though for a slice of bread and blackberry jelly or some of Mom’s strawberry preserves. I wouldn’t even mind some grape jelly if it came from a Flintstone glass. But just how sweet these memories are now I can’t put into words so I’m not even gonna try.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at email@example.com.