Jams and Country Roots

Ann H Gabhart Ann's Posts, One Writer's Journal

A bubbling pot of sweet goodness. That’s what you’re seeing here. I was making jam out of a combination of blackberries and boysenberries with some raspberries (frozen earlier for just this purpose) mixed in to make the whole pot sweeter. 

And that’s where the roots and connections come in. That’s what my grandmother did and my mother did before me. They passed down the recipe. Of course there’s no real recipe – just pound for pound berries and sugar and then cook until it’s right. There were other hints though. Some advised putting a marble in the pot to keep it from boiling over. I never tried that. Instead, I used the swipe of butter around the upper rim of the cooking pot. That worked today. I wasn’t sure it would since I had the pot pretty full. 

Even the pot connects me to my past. This heavy duty pot has been in use canning and preserving and making jams and relishes since before I can remember. I don’t know if it was new with my mother, but I do know that it’s boiled a lot of pots of jam, not to mention cooking tomatoes and pears and green beans to get them ready to pack in canning jars. I’ve done all that too. Now I just do the occasional pot of jam or relish. I do can a lot of green beans but have packed them raw into the jars for these last many years after a home extension agent convinced my aunt it wasn’t necessary to boil them before packing them in the jars. She shared the easier method with my mom.

I use some of these canning roots in my stories. I had Kate and Evie canning beans in my book, Angel Sister. In the Hollyhill books, people were sharing garden produce with their preacher all the time. Gardens are a great way to make connections. I have one daughter-in-law who likes gardening and putting up her own produce. She too feels the connections as she  is following in her grandmother’s and mother’s steps. 

Most every body who could gardened in the generations past and then canned and preserved. It was patriotic during the war years when anybody with a backyard was encouraged to plant a “victory” garden. Gardening then wasn’t a hobby or for fun. It was survival and a way to have good food summer and winter. It’s not survival for me. I can buy good food at the store. Produce is available all year round. But it seems wrong not to preserve and can. 

Many years ago, I read an autobiography of Janice Holt Giles, a popular historical novel author who lived in Kentucky and wrote about Kentucky history. She had to use her mornings to can the produce Henry (her husband) insisted they had to raise. A city girl, she wasn’t a young woman when she married Henry and moved to his family farm in Kentucky. She sounded a little resentful when she wrote of having to spend time canning instead of writing as she wanted to do. Especially after her books were making money. But roots go deep for country folk. To Henry, canning that garden produce was as necessary as breathing and probably seemed more necessary than writing. Maybe it is for me too. A connection to my country roots. A connection with a bonus. It’s kept us well fed and has given me fodder for my stories. 

How about you? What connects you to your roots?