By GLADYS CONSIDINE
In so many ways, I am my mother’s daughter.
In the semi-arid climate of southeastern Montana, the fresh fruit available to Mom and her cohorts was mostly patches of chokecherries, wild plums, the tiny orange balls of buffalo berries, and an occasional crab apple tree planted decades ago by a long forgotten homesteader.
Like the fishermen who kept secret their favorite fishing holes, Mom kept secret her favorite fruit sources. Donning long denim pants, long-sleeved shirts, and our worn-out straw hats, we drove miles through the late August heat to an unnamed creek bottom over by Sonnette, to pick prickly chokecherries.
With buckets, clothes baskets, and the galvanized wash tub in the back of the car, we drove the other direction to where the only evidence of an old homestead was a small pile of desiccated, smashed logs beside a glorious crabapple tree.
Wherever there was a possibility of wild fruit, Mom and the other ranch and town women vied with each other to get to the close berry patches first. Sometimes, we found the fruit had already been picked when we arrived. But Mom always had a secondary location in mind. And, most often, we were the first to get there.
The adventure of driving, picking, and dodging snakes and other varmints was the most fun part and only the beginning of a long week of hard work preserving whatever fruit we gleaned from nature.
But I’m not here to tell you how to make chokecherry preserves. I am here to tell you how that lesson of using whatever natural bounty was at hand is still so strong in me.
I moved from Montana to western Washington, surrounded by wild blackberries and other fruits, more than I could possibly preserve for the winter. But I tried to use every berry from the vines covering the yard fence.
I made jelly and jam and tried to make blackberry wine. (Interesting flavored vinegar—I could probably sell it in today’s market of artisan vinegars. At that time, I poured it on the compost pile in the back yard.) I made blackberry cobbler and blackberry scones and blackberry pancakes and filled our small freezer. I gifted anyone I could with these products and still had more than enough for our small family for the winter season.
Mom came to visit. She saw an abandoned apple tree next to the grocery store parking lot, picked up all the fallen apples, and we made more apple butter than five families could eat all winter.
We had a rather small house with limited storage, so she insisted we buy a small tin cupboard that we put in the carport, to store all this preserved fruit. I soon realized I could not “save” all the blackberries in western Washington.
Another move to the east coast, and, even in this more populated area, there was a bounty of natural foods. I did some preserving every fall.
Again we moved, this time back to Montana, where fresh wild fruit is still rather scarce, but we have Flathead Cherries. And, two apple trees in our back yard that give us lots of apples every other year. Sometimes these apples are mis-shaped, and sometimes they have worm holes and even worms. But the pulp is tart and juicy, and, if you cut out the worm holes, the pulp looks just like any other applesauce.
I race the birds and the deer to get as many of these apples as I can. With this bounty, and for the diabetics in the family, I have developed a recipe for low-sugar, tart, spicy apple butter that my nephew says fills his mouth with happy.
A special event in October 2020 added a new recipe to my collection. I was trying a different way to preserve these free apples, using the Ball Blue Book Canning instructions for Maple Apple Jam. The cellphone buzzed with wonderful, frightening news. My granddaughter, only 29 weeks into a scary pregnancy, had emergency surgery to save the lives of both mother and baby. On October 10, 2020 (or 10-10-2020, an auspicious day) my great granddaughter was born, weighing only one pound, 12 ounces.
Mother and baby survived, and the baby thrived, spending almost five months in the Tacoma General Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. My great granddaughter, now almost 2 years old, is named Joriah.
“Joriah’s Jam” is the new title for Maple Apple Jam in my Ball Blue Book. The jam I made that day went into jars for the NICU nurses and others who helped her mother through that traumatic time.
This year, Joriah and her mother visited me and helped pick, peel, and process the free apples from our trees. They returned home with gifts for her family—a dozen jars of “Joriah’s Jam.”
Thanks, Mom. ISI