Do you know the difference between jelly, jam and preserves? Growing up on a farm, I watched mama make all three. We ate apple jelly, muscadine and blackberry jam and fig preserves all year long.
Jelly is translucent, made from fruit juice with no pulp or skin in it. Jam has fruit pulp or crushed fruit in it. Preserves have chunks or whole fruit in it. All three take a lot of hard work. I’m not sure why she made the different types from different fruits, but they sure were good.
My role was to go to the woods to gather muscadines and blackberries when ripe, pick figs from our huge fig bush and go to a neighbor’s house where he allowed us to get all the apples we wanted from his trees.
My favorite were the fig preserves. The whole figs, in heavy, super sweet syrup, were great on toast or mama’s homemade biscuits for breakfast. And I sometimes just ate the figs straight from the jar for a snack.
I haven’t seen fig preserves for years but found a jar of fig preserves in a store recently. It was good, and the taste brought back good memories, but it could not compare to mama’s cooking.
Something else I can’t find is pickled pears.
Mama put up lots of pickles but the tart, sweet pear pickles were great. Its odd I have never seen them in stores since they were a staple of all family and church potluck dinners.
Pickled peaches she made were also a staple. I have found them in stores, and they are good, but they lack something in my memories. Both pears and peaches were picked on neighbors’ trees until daddy planted some of each.
Mama made sweet cucumber pickles, and I have never had any as good as hers. The bread and butter pickles in stores are similar, but hers were sweeter and tarter, and the slices of pickled cucumber were very dark, almost black. I hated picking the cucumbers since the vines made me itch.
I had my first pickled okra just a few years ago, mama never made them. That surprises me since the pickled okra is great, and we grew lots of okra for soups and other dishes. She never made dill pickle, either, that I remember. Maybe daddy didn’t like the dill taste of both.
Mama could take anything and make a good dish from it. When I was 15 years old, Bobby Fox, a young single man was hired to teach at daddy’s school. He boarded with us and became almost like an older brother. He told mama his mama in North Carolina made persimmon pudding, much like the bread pudding mama often made.
Her bread pudding was fantastic, and she adapted her recipe to make the persimmon pudding. In the late fall, when the persimmons turned dark orange, we would gather a bunch of them and mama mashed them up, removed the seeds and made the pudding. It was very good.
String beans were a staple of summer, but mama put up dozens of quarts of canned string beans, we ate at least a jar a week all winter. That involved lots of work, too. I didn’t mind picking them too much but hated the tedious task of stringing and snapping them. Shelling peas and butterbeans, which were blanched and frozen, and stringing beans occupied most summer nights, sitting in front of the TV, watching one of the two channels available, and wanting to be outside!
When I was 12 we built mama’s dream house, a split level brick house that sat right where the old wooden farm house sat. We tore down the front half of the house to make room for the new one and lived for a few months in the bedrooms and small kitchen and bath that were on the back of the old house.
One feature mama wanted and got was a huge pantry under the carport. The shelves were lined with jars of pickles, jams, jellies, preserves and string beans. I know it gave mama and daddy a comfortable, fulfilled feeling to have a store of food for the winter, something common back then.
We ate a lot of fresh stuff, too, especially when out in the woods and fields. Some of it probably should have been left along, but then, like now, I will try eating just about anything.
I learned fast that yellow persimmons would “turn your mouth inside out,” by trying them. They were great when fully ripe, and I liked the ones that had already fallen to the ground. There was always a little dirt stuck to them but it was worth the grinding for the taste.
I ate lots of snake berries, too. The tiny wild strawberries were everywhere, and rumor had it that they were poison, but if so I must be immune. One thing I never tried were poke berries. The dark purple berries looked good enough to eat, but I was convinced they were poison, as well as knowing they stained everything they touched.
I enjoyed sucking the nectar out of honeysuckle, and often wished there was some way to make jelly from it. Daddy showed me a mulberry bush on our fence row when I was in my late teens, and they were great. For some reason, although I walked by it hundreds of times, I never noticed it growing up.
Some things I tried were not good. As much as squirrels loved acorns, they had to be good, right? Not to me! We tried them raw, boiled in an old tin can over a campfire and roasted on campfires, but never could eat them.
I miss those adventures but miss mama and her cooking even more.