May 2006
Sage Grass & Cedars

Homemade Jelly

Many times life’s simple things that we enjoy are just passing on and we are just too busy to appreciate them or notice them until they are things of the past.

For instance, I was talking to a friend the other day about an old bridge, on the Big Nance Creek, that used to be about a mile from where I live. It was completely torn down about thirty-five years ago when the new concrete bridge was built a couple hundred feet away. The only things left are the stone embankments on each side of the creek. Gone are the iron framework and rails and the stone pillars. A piece of history was destroyed with that old bridge. Had I realized that at the time, I hope I would have at least taken some pictures to help remember it better.

Homemade jelly may be one of the things that are going the way of the old iron bridge. When I was a kid, homemade jelly was all that we knew. I just figured that all the moms were making and feeding their families homemade jelly instead of buying jelly at a store. I thought that all families could go to the cabinet or pantry and make a selection from preserves made from muscadines, pears, plums, strawberries, cherries and figs or apple, grape, blackberry and peach jelly.

It is my guess that it will soon come to pass, if not already, that a generation will grow up with the vast majority having never tasting homemade jelly. Those who have just take it for granted that we will always be able to. We may be headed for a time that we will have to visit the Amish to buy homemade jelly and hope they are not buying it at Piggly Wiggly and putting their label on it.

My mom still makes homemade jelly. Several years ago it came about that for my birthday or other occasions calling for a gift that Mom would give me some of her homemade jellies. I look forward to Sunday mornings when I have time to sit down and really enjoy breakfast with buttered biscuits and some of that homemade jelly. My children thought that jelly was not jelly unless it was grape and store bought. Dustin, my oldest son, would dig in heartily into Mom’s apple butter. Other than that, this situation has worked out perfectly for me.

Mom and her two sisters used to have what they called "Three Sisters" holiday gift shop near Christmas. They and other friends would gather their paintings, crafts and mom would bring her jellies, relishes and peanut brittle. My aunts, uncles and some cousins would buy jellies and relishes for their own use and for gifts for friends. I’d be afraid to say how far and into how many states "Margaret’s" homemade jellies and relishes have gone. I know that cousins from Texas to Virginia have bought and given to friends living in who-knows-where. My cousin in Virginia even made labels for Mom’s confections.

In the fast paced world that we live in, it is no wonder that there is a decline in making homemade jelly and other such time-consuming tasks. Convenience is more important to us than quality. There are also hazards to be considered, especially in gathering wild fruit. I don’t think you can truly appreciate blackberry jelly or jam unless you have picked at least a gallon or so sometime in your life. When gathering blackberries, you have to watch out for snakes, wasp nests, briars from the vines, chiggers and other dangers, real or imagined.

As a kid, I had picked blackberries several times and had only gotten the occasional chigger. Then there was the time that I had a massive, below-the-belt invasion. I must have been only about seven but I’ll never forget that and became a firm believer in insect repellant.

Mom still picks her own blackberries. She will go down into the pasture and pick out some patches of vines that she wants to pick and tell me where not to spray or bush-hog until after the berries are gone.

In the last batch of jelly that Mom gave me, there was a jar of blackberry jelly labeled "old fashion." My wife and I discussed how it might be different from the regular and I arrived at the conclusion that it probably didn’t gel and Mom just labeled it as old fashion. Sometimes that happens and the jelly has a consistency more like syrup than jelly.

When I opened it, I found that that was not the case. Now I have concluded that Mom has pulled the same trick that Coke did when they changed the formula, then went back to the old formula and called it Classic. I don’t know the difference between regular and old fashion, but I know it was good. Maybe I need a few more pints for testing purposes.

I hardly qualify as man who has everything, but this reminds me of that old joke. "What do you give a man who has everything?" My Mom has the real answer. You don’t give him penicillin, you give him homemade jelly.

Darrell Thompson is the Moulton store manager of Lawrence County Exchange.