Growing up, me and my mom were always close. I was dragged initially for years, then eventually initiated going “garage saleing” with her every Saturday. Shopping together was always an option, especially when both parties shared the same shoe size and the occasional same shirt size. But in the way that life usually happens, moving out and getting married and all that jazz ended up in me and mom not seeing each other as much as we used to, let alone doing stuff together.
Back in 2011, I finally utilized my father’s multiple decades-worth of botany experience and asked him what sort of tree it was that I had over-reaching into my back yard. I happily discovered that it was a mulberry tree – limb upon limb was covered in these tiny things that looked like Honey I Shrunk The Blackberries. My trepidation in actually popping one into my mouth grew until I finally told myself that “what is life without risk?” and finally tried one (making sure my SO was not far away in case I started frothing at the mouth). I was pleasantly surprised to find the small fruit sweet and a little tart, tasting like a cross between a blueberry and a blackberry. Berries like these have a notoriously short shelf life, so I considered making something out of them. A jelly, perhaps?
Me and jellies go way back (grammar be damned!). I have vivid memories of making grape jelly with my mom in their tiny kitchen on my parents’ white electric stove when I was a teenager. Mom put me in charge of cooking the fruit and pectin together…I’ll spare you the details and expletives, and tell you that it ended up with sticky, staining grape juice boiling over and getting on everything. I still hear about that incident to this day.
Fast forward to this year, I called mom up and asked her if she wanted to make jelly with me one Saturday. A few days later, my doorbell rings and mom can’t open the door because her hands are so full with canning equipment: a huge pot, jar tongs, funnels, jar lifters. But my favorite was her recipe books, which were how I hope all of my cook books will be when I get older – crinkled because water or something else spilled on it at some point and that certain musty smell that says it’s been around for awhile.
Picking the berries was actually one of the best parts of the recipe, because we picked and talked and picked some more for over an hour. Reminded me of those garage saleing Saturdays we used to have. After stretching in ways I probably shouldn’t have, we bring in our measly 4 cups of berries and begin the process of jellification. Grind the berries, strain the berries, cook the berries, add the sugar, add the pectin, all thankfully without repeating my previous teenage mistake. All this work – the hour of picking, the 2 hours of making – resulted in 2 and a half jars of deep reddish-blue jelly that smelled like summer. And I was damn proud of those 2 and a half jars. When I eventually opened up a jar a few weeks later and slathered it onto a freshly toasted croissant from Calandra’s, the first sensation I felt was remembering all the hard work we put into it – and then I actually tasted it. Sweet, with a hint of cranberry-tartness.
While the day had started out being about making jelly, it ended up not really being about the jelly. I realize the more I type that I just wanted to spend a day with my mom like we used to, talking about this and that and just enjoying each others’ company. I felt closer to my mom that day than I had for awhile. Next year’s mulberry crop can’t come soon enough for me.
Thanks, mom. ❤