Twenty years ago I snagged a few plum seedlings from the old homeplace, which was on its way to becoming one vast row of metal storage units. Since then, I've watched the trees grow here on the mountain, but they've never borne fruit. I cast a doubtful eye at the scraggly trees a few months ago and put their extinction on my TO-DO list.
Fresh, organic and sugar-free
My TO-DO list being what it is, the plum trees were assured at least one more summer.
Well, guess what!
They made plums this year. They made so many plums the trees are bent over with the weight of the crop.
The fruit is deep ruby red and ambrosial.
This weekend, I had gathered some soggy plums and also had a gift of fresh-picked wild blackberries, though not quite enough for a pie (my pre-eminent touchstone of summer – fresh blackberry pie).
So, to save these treasures I turned them into preserves.
The whole time - as I preened the blackberries and pulverized the plums, boiled jars in a big pot and lids in a little one, stirred the madly boiling fruit mixture, then filled the jars – I thought there must be a hundred fine poems that speak to this process.
Summer. Fruit. Hot water. Jars. Transformation!
One of my favorite short stories considers fruit preserves. Olive Tilford Dargan’s story “Serena and Wild Strawberries" is in her under-appreciated book, From My Highest Hill (set in early-20th-century Swain County).
There was a time I would have said nothing could surpass William Bartram’s account in the category of "Wild Strawberries in the Smokies Stories."
That was before I read “Serena and Wild Strawberries.”
The story (an early version, at least) is online at Google Books:
But back to the poems. I know they’re out there, musing on the moments captured in jars.
Didn’t Robert Frost write something in that vein?
I’ll find them, but I do remember one poem, by Ted Kooser, that goes…
I liked how the starry blue lid
of that saucepan lifted and puffed,
then settled back on a thin
hotpad of steam, and the way
her kitchen filled with the warm
wet breath of apples, as if all
the apples were talking at once,
as if they'd come cold and sour
from chores in the orchard,
and were trying to shoulder in
close to the fire. She was too busy
to put in her two cent's worth
talking to apples. Squeezing
her dentures with wrinkly lips,
she had to jingle and stack
the bright brass coins of the lids
and thoughtfully count out
the red rubber rings, then hold
each jar, to see if it was clean,
to a window that looked out
through her back yard into Iowa.
And with every third or fourth jar
she wiped steam from her glasses,
using the hem of her apron,
printed with tiny red sailboats
that dipped along with leaf-green
banners snapping, under puffs
of pale applesauce clouds
scented with cinnamon and cloves,
the only boats under sail
for at least two thousand miles
~ Ted Kooser
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