Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chapter 51


"Wanna tell us again why we are out here traipsing around in this heat getting eat up by bugs?  I got why we picked the serviceberries and apricots that you found.  I even understand the pin cherries though I think they are too small to do anything sensible with.  But gathering that cattail fluff was a bit much doncha think?"

It was a week after the 4th of July picnic and another canning day, only it got called off early because Aunt Pearl got word that a store over in Four Rivers was having a major sale because there was some kind of system failure on their big walk in butcher's cooler.  Most everyone else took off lickety split leaving Linda and I to finish the last canners full and to set things straight in the kitchen.  The men were still chugging away cutting and splitting wood so it wasn't like I was leaving the house unattended.

"I know it’s miserable ..."

" ... And crazy."

I sighed.  "Linda you didn't have to come."

She was quiet for a moment.  "I saw Mom."

"When?"

"The other day.  She ... it's like she ... I don't know.  It was like she was mad at me for coming over even though she's the one that said I could."

"She's under a lot of strain ..."

"I know all that," Linda said snapping at me.  Then she clapped her hand over her mouth hand said, "Sorry ... sorry."

I hugged her.  "It's ok.  You're hurting and I know what you meant.  This is probably how it is for your mom too.  She's upset and it comes out in ways that other people kind of get blindsided by.  She's probably hurting a lot with how your dad is."

"I know, that's why I want to help.  But she doesn't want me to help.  She doesn't even want me to come around anymore because she says it is too hard and messes up the schedule and everything she has set for him to keep him on an even keel.  She said she can't worry about him and me at the same time and now I have Tommy and his family to worry about me she needs to focus all of her energy on dad because he needs her more.  I just want to help Kay-Lee.  I want her to see that I picked them just like they picked me."

Being hospitalized so much of my life I saw things other people didn't and looking back I saw people do the same thing that Linda's mom was doing.  "You are doing as much as she lets you.  Until she is ready to let you do more you just have to do what you can.  Did she say she got your letters?"

"Yeah.  She hugged me but didn't want to talk about what was in them."

"Sometimes when you have someone in your life that is really sick you have to ... well ... they call it compartmentalizing.  Like sticking different parts of your life into a box and only having one box out and open at a time."  Then I thought of something.  "You know how Benedict can work on a bunch of different kind of cars and things at the same time?  But Tommy can only work on one thing at a time or he gets frustrated?"

"Yeah."

"Well your Mom is like Tommy.  She can only work on one thing at a time and right now that thing is your dad."

I could see Linda was thinking about it and then shook her head.  "OK, I'm putting it in a box for now and I'll just keep writing letters."  Then she sighed.  "But seriously, what are we doing hiking around out here?"

Linda's moods could swing suddenly and I was just happy this time that they were swinging up.  "Remember how everyone liked that I found those mulberry trees last month and all of the recipes for them?"

 

"Yeah.  Tommy's shirt is still stained where he and Sawyer ate all of those mulberry candies you made to bribe them to haul that ladder all the way for us."

I grinned.  "It worked didn't it?  Anyway, Aunt Pearl has given me ideas and then I've looked stuff up in the library.  You're never gonna guess what I found."

"I'm not even gonna try.  And it better not be ramp bulbs.  It took forever to get Tommy to stop farting.”
 

 
I tried not to laugh at Linda’s crudeness but since I know it was the truth and that some of the other wives had had the same problems with their husbands and weren’t exactly happy about it or with me for “sharing the bounty” I understood what she meant.  I told her, “It’s not ramp bulbs.  I wouldn’t do that to you again.” 

“Well whatever it is I hope it is better than blackberries.  I've picked enough of those lately that my fingers are purple."  She held the tips up and sure enough they were purple ... but then again so were mine.  I’d been having a blast making just about every kind of blackberry something or other that I could find a recipe for[1].
 

I shook my head and grinned.  "Nope.  Better.  C'mon, it's not much further.  I'm pretty sure these are ripe by now."

We walked a little further on and down an overgrown trail until we came to the small trees that I had found.  "What are those?!"

"Wild plums."

"But they're ... they're yellow.  Plums are red or purple."

"Not this variety."  I reached out and pulled one off.  They were small but obviously ripe.  I carefully bit into the flesh and freaked Linda out.

"Wait!  You don't eat something you don't know what it is!  It could be poisonous!!"

"Nope.  I broke a branch off and took it to the library to look it up in the picture book they have and the librarian saw what I was doing and told me that she used to eat those by the handful when she was a girl and that she still has some on the back of her property line.  Besides ... they taste like plums."  I gave her a bite of the one that I had nibbled on.

That taste was all it took to convince her and we spent an hour and managed to pick two five gallon buckets.  We were half way back when Tommy and Sawyer - both of whom had gotten worried - came to find us and carried the buckets the rest of the way back.

"Whew, these things are little heavy ain't they."

"A little," I admitted, wiping the sweat and mosquitos from my forehead.

Linda turned to me and said, "I'm not taking that whole bucket back.  I'm going to have enough to keep up with the rest of this week."

"Fine.  But take some back at least."

"Hah.  You just want the Aunts to see what you found."

I grinned in spite of myself and said, "So?  I want to be a contributor."

"You contribute anymore and we're all going to go nuts.  Oh, and speaking of when Tommy and I were in town getting the propane tanks refilled we saw Shallaylee and she asked where you had run off to."

I groaned.  "Color me grateful I didn't go with you then."

Linda grinned and asked, "Don't you want to get to know your little cousin?"

Deadpan I said, "I already know her and that's good enough. Why the three of them suddenly decided to start going to the same church all the Hartfords attend I don’t want to know.  It’s like they are watching me all the time now.  I had enough of that from Shallaylee when we went to school.  And if she asks me when the baby is due one more time ..."

Scandalized despite the fact just she’d just been teasing me Linda yelped, "She didn't!"

"Oh yes she did ... and in front of the preacher too.  I may still be learning all that church stuff but what I do know is that I don't want him thinking those kind of things about Sawyer and I."

Sawyer dipped a hand into the bucket of plums and started eating them and spitting the pits into the trash.  "He doesn't.  Just ‘cause the man is a preacher doesn’t mean he is gullible to their maneuverings.  Wow, these things are sweet."

I told Sawyer, "Eat however many that won't give you a belly ache since Linda is leaving most of her bucketful."

 

Linda and Tommy left and Sawyer manage to eat one too many plums and had to go to bed early with most of the bottom of a bottle of Pepto-Bismol for company.  Apparently plums help you along a little too well, about like the little green apples I had eaten the week before.  Since Sawyer didn’t even fuss when I said I’d come to bed after I finished a couple of things I knew he wasn’t feeling well at all.  Too many plums and too many little green apples, neither one of them made either of us look too smart.
 

I was glad to be done with fruit for the night, my fingertips were starting to get sore from being damp for hours on end.  When the aunts had arrived in the morning Aunt Pearl had brought Sawyer and I another round of flour and cornmeal but this time she also brought a bunch of whole grains and oatmeal.  I couldn’t just leave it sitting on the kitchen floor to trip over, it needed to be poured into airtight containers.  A couple of weeks back I realized I was fast running out of gallon jars and plastic ware that I could store stuff in and I’d been going crazy trying to think of something and then it hit me as I watched Delly’s kids throw a 2-liter bottle into their recycling bin when we’d gone over to their place after church. 

I quietly explained what I wanted to Sawyer and he shrugged, willing to humor me.  That’s not saying that he wanted his sister knowing the truth so he said, “Hey Delly?  You want me to cart off your recycling for you?  Looks like it is starting to pile up back here.  I can probably burn most of this stuff at least.” 

Well that’s all it took.  Delly was more than happy to have it all hauled off and gotten out of her way.  And when Sawyer said there was a lot of it he hadn’t been kidding.  Stacks of newspapers, cans, milk jugs, 2-liter pop bottles, you name it.  They seem to go through a 2-liter of pop every day or so and it had been a couple of months since Burt had run anything to the dump.  It meant a lot of washing and finding a way to dry them out but once I went through all the bags I counted over 50 bottles that still had their screw top lids.   

I spent a couple of hours pouring the grains and such in the bags into those plastic bottles and standing them beside the few loads of jars that we’d managed to fill before everyone had run off.  I was just getting ready to head upstairs but was glad I had stayed up because Sawyer’s phone rang and it was Aunt Pearl.  “Honey, I hope you don’t have nothing planned for tomorra.  We got more meat than will fit in the deep freeze and I want to start canning it up right quick.  Got a mess of okra and potatoes that need something done with them too.  And I might just have to bring some of the cabbages and cukes over as well as with this load of meat I’m just not sure that I’ll have time to get to them while they are still fresh, Lord above knows I don’t have no room for them in any of the fridges.  And Suzanne mentioned she has several melons sitting on her counter she wants some help with.” 

“Uh … sure Aunt Pearl.  Sawyer might be not feeling too hot though.” 

Aunt Pearl snorted, then started chuckling, then started outright laughing.  “Tommy and him can take turns feeling puny then.  I reckon they can exchange stories about how many of them little plums they ate.” 

“Yes ma’am.  I fed Sawyer Pepto-Bismol but I’m not sure that he won’t still need to stay kinda close to the house for another day.” 

Aunt Pearl hung up still laughing.  I wish I felt like laughing.  Looks like I’m going to have to do a bunch more jars before I can go to bed after all.  And while I did that I thought about some of the things that the aunts had been telling me they remembered from their childhoods or that they remember their older relatives saying.  Aunt Nel told a story first thing about Black Locust Jelly[2] made from the flowers of the black locust tree.  That got into a discussion by some of them of all the jellies, syrups, and such that could be made from flowers. 

 
Even I knew about using rose petals in cooking but apparently there are a lot of other flowers that are edible.  It was also Aunt Nel that gave me a basic recipe for making jelly from blossoms.[3]  You fill a quart jar full of flower heads and then pour enough boiling water over them to make an infusion … usually you just fill up all of the air spaces left in the jar after filling it with petals or blossoms.   You need to let that stand at least five hours but for some you need to let it set overnight.  Then when you are ready you strain the solids out of the infusion and for every two and a half cups of infusion you add the juice of one lemon and a package of Sure Jell or Certo.  You bring that to a boil, add three cups of sugar and then bring to a hard boil for one minute.  Your  liquid should jell after one minute.  You pour the liquid into your jelly jars and seal it in a boiling water bath the same as you do any other jelly.  Aunt Nel also told me that instead of white store bought sugar you can use one and a half cups of honey. 

 
Some of the blossoms and petals that you can use in addition to rose petals are violets, queen anne’s lace, peonies, clover, elderberry blossoms, dandelion blossoms before they turn to fluffy seed heads, and just about any sweet smelling flowers.   

After Aunt Nel stepped away Aunt Pearl stepped over and whispered, “Now honey, don’t believe everything you hear.” 

“Blossom jellies aren’t good?” 

“Sure they are, I taught you to make honeysuckle jelly for heaven’s sake.  I’m talking about the recipe to use.  I remember using Nel’s recipe one time and the jelly wound up more like a glaze.  I’ve gotten better results using my version.”[4] 

She proceeded to tell me to use two cups of flowers, petals, or blossoms, two and a quarter cups of water, two packages of Certo and four cups of sugar.  I think that is a lot of sugar for a small batch of jelly but apparently you need it to set the jell.  Everything after that was pretty much the same.  In a small glass or stainless saucepan, bring the flower petals or herb leaves in the water to a boil. Cover and set aside. Let this sit overnight or for a several hours. Strain, squeezing out all the water into the saucepan. Put the pulp into the compost. This water is called an “infusion”. Bring the water to a boil and stir in the sugar until all is well dissolved.  Stir in the pectin and boil hard for two minutes. Pour into hot, sterilized jelly jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Store at room temperature. Refrigerate after opening.  And there you have it. 

As for me, after the last load of jars I could stand I had had it as well.  It is time for me to go to bed or I’ll be useless tomorrow.

3 comments:

  1. I like the format and don't find it distracting at all. If you're having fun with it, I say go for it. But either way is great.
    If Kaylee had a bunch of those pop bottles without lids, they make great mini greenhouses for tender plants in the early spring.

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  2. I have to agree, no problems with the format at all.

    Besides this is supposed to be fun for the author as well as the readers and with all the research you do for your recipes I love being able to look through all the sites (as well as sampling the goodies from them).

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  3. I've been saving 2-litter bottles for years now. I probably have about a thousand now and no that is not an exaggeration!

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