Manataka American Indian Council
Jams and Jelly
By Waynonaha Two Worlds
With hoe, gloves, and baskets in hand, my Mother and I walk the short distance to the garden. The morning is still cool enough for the hoeing and weeding of this large well planted space.
We have on large straw hats to protect our skin from the strong rays of the morning sun. We resemble the dress of the old scare crow hung on a post in the garden. Perhaps the birds think there are three scare crows; I smile at this thought as we work.
Morning birds dart in and out of the corn and greet us with a flute like melodies.
A swarm of newly hatched mosquitoes lift from the near by pond.
Bass splash as they play in the tall water grass, leaping to catch the mosquitoes and other flying insects.
Today we brought our berry baskets to carry back the fat ripe strawberries.
All evening we had brought up the jelly jars from the root cellar. I washed the jars as my mother checked them for cracks. They sit ready along with the big jam kettles on the kitchen drain board. Paraffin blocks placed on the back of the old wood stove slowing melting to pour over the tops of the jam once it is in the jars. This will seal out any unwanted mold for the winter months.
All winter long we save small jars that are emptied of commercial foods. These along with some cherished Jelly glasses are used for our summer jams and jellies.
We hoe for several hours then start to pick the berries. I handle each one with care and place them in my basket so as not to bruise them.
Some will be mixed with rhubarb and used in the winter months on biscuits, and half moon fried pies.
I feel the sun sink into my skin as it creeps up the hill and spills out over the valley. My thin cotton blouse is soaked with sweat and sticks to my back.
By noon we have our baskets full of berries and walk back to the house.
At the water pump I set down the baskets to wash the berries.
Slowly pushing down on the long handle with both hands several times I hear the of water as it races out of the old pump spout.
First the water is warm to the touch then the gush turns to ice cold, clear sweet water.
I put my hand under the water, and pump with one hand for a while. Lifting several hands full to drink I splash some on my face, and hair. The water runs down my face and back as I continue washing the baskets of berries.
Mom is in the kitchen putting on the big pots of water to sterilize the jars and lids.
I lift up my arms and twirl around in the cool arbor, letting the water run off me. The little breeze acts as a natural air conditioner, what we call a "water cooler" here in the desert.
Soon I hear my name being called to come in side. I pick up the now drained baskets and carry them into the kitchen.
It is dark as I enter the long hall way. My eyes adjust to the darkness, and the green shades drawn to keep out the heat of the day. By afternoon we will again open the windows and let in the cool wind that comes down the mountain. A wonderful thing about the high dry desert is that it cools off at night. If you let in the cool air at night, and close the windows and shades early in the morning, it will remain cool until evening.
Placing the heavy baskets on the counter I watch as my Mother stokes the stove up and hands me a paring knife.
Mom cuts up cheese and places it on a small dish along with some crackers. From the old ice box she brings out cold nettle tea. We sit quietly at the chipped red and white enamel table and eat our lunch.
For the next hour or so we cut the stems and leaves off the berries slice them and put them in the Jelly kettles. We work in complete silence except when we hum or sing. My fingers grow sticky from the berry juice, and my white blouse is stained with splashes of red.
Soon the kettles are full of sliced berries and placed on the stove to cook.
My mother adds the proper amount of sugar and her home made pectin then sets them on to boil.
Some place far away we are still at war. Many things have to be purchased with ration stamps. We had to save up all winter long for enough sugar to can with.
Once the berries are boiling we start the assembly line of canning.
First the jars are placed in the low flat pots of boiling water then fished out and drained. I set out the jars and my mother quickly fills them with the ruby red strawberry jam.
The smell in the kitchen is heavenly like hot sugary candied apples and the rich odor of strawberries.
Mom pours as I dip out the jars, and then we pour on the paraffin to seal the tops. After they cool we will add the lids that also have to be taken from the boiling water.
Jars and jars of jam line the counter like rows of marching soldiers sparkling in ruby red jackets. The time fly's by and we hum or sing songs as we work. The kitchen heats up and we work fast to preserve the berries. Our hair that has been put back with a handkerchief is soaked with sweat.
Soon the bottom of the pot is reached and the last sticky sweet drop of jam is scraped into a jar. My mother stands looking at all the jars of jam and says, "All is well, all is good."
There is always a test jar of jam, one that did not get filled to the top.
It is this jar of jam we sit on the table as an offering, with hot biscuits, and fresh salty butter.
My Father and brothers will demand a more filling dinner; but for us this is the rewards of our days work, and we are satisfied.
For days the house is filled with the making of other jams and jellies. Along with a variety of vegetables and meat, the shelves in the root cellar fill fast with a rainbow of color.
I loved to go down in the cold winter months to get things from the cellar. I would stand there for a moment, and remember each day of summer according to the jars on the shelves.
Years later as my daughters and I canned and preserve food for the winter my mind would drifts back to my Mother and I in the kitchen. The same feeling of completeness filled my heart and my mind, I can still her say, "all is well, all is good."
Copyright (c) 2006 by Waynonaha Two Worlds. All publication rights reserved
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