We don’t remember the sensation of pain, which is a good thing as no one wants to relive the pain of a root canal. But we do remember how food tastes. That’s why food memories are powerful; the small kitchen at my grandparents small house, every surface is covered in flats of strawberries, my Nana is at her electric stove stirring a big blue granite pot, and my grandfather is sitting on a wooden kitchen chair in his undershirt, methodically hulling the berries. I was young, impatient and I just wanted to be outside in the cool evening of a hot summer playing kick the can with my cousins, and despite the fact that I loved the canned berries, I couldn’t be bothered hanging around the tiny hot kitchen helping and learning how it was done. Like many people of their generation who lived through the depression, canning the bountiful harvest was a way of life, and my grandparents were no different. Shelves in their basement were heavy with jars of preserved peaches, pears, plums and the glorious ruby red strawberries gently suspended in a thick sweet syrup, and to taste those berries in a fruit nappy on a bitterly cold night in January was to relive the summer and all of its promises again.
But then, life changed, my grandfather died, my grandmother moved into an apartment, the granite pot disappeared, and so did the berries. Of all of the things that I have eaten, so many fantastic food experiences all over the world, it is those strawberries that I have missed and thought of the most. Of course, the memory of the berries is mixed up with so many other memories of my grandparents Betty and Steve Ivanski, and my Mom Marjorie MacPherson, all of us ” nuttier then a fruit cake,” Betty would say. (She’s wash my mouth out with soap if she eve found out I referred to her as Betty.)
A few weeks ago, I found a cookbook; Canadian Country Preserves and Wine at my local Salvation Army, for fifty cents. It seems as if I buy my cookbooks in bulk, I get them home, do a quick read and then on a pile they go to be read more leisurely if I remembered them at all.
It’s strawberry season where I live, and I can’t get enough of them, on the weekend I bought seven quarts, thankfully I did remember the preserving book, I was looking for a compote recipe when I came across, “Strawberry Preserve II, Adapted from The Canadian Housewife’s Manual of Cookery, 1861.” I thought that it was interesting, I decided to make it and followed the recipe for the most part. I didn’t have red currant or rhubarb juice so I substituted freshly squeezed blackberry juice from my local grocery store. It wasn’t until I started to cook the fruit that I thought that this might be my grandmother’s berries. The man in my life asked me if I was making jam? “I hope not,” I replied.
The ten minute timer went off, and on my fancy gas stove, in a gleaming stainless steal pot with a copper core and a bonded aluminum bottom, in a decent sized kitchen, were the strawberries that I have been missing my entire adult life. I bottled them and prayed hard that they’d seal. Then I called my Uncle Jim, my mother’s only brother, my grandparent’s son and the only other living person who I knew would also remember the berries . I told him that I would save him a jar but instead, I have decided that we’ll share a jar, talk about old times and the people that we love, even though they’re no longer around the table, all of us crazy and forever mixed up together, just like a fruitcake.
Strawberry Preserves II
(Adapted from The Canadian Housewife’s Manual of Cookery, pub. 1861)
In a large bowl, place 3 qts. large, firm, ripe, hulled strawberries, and sprinkle as you go with 1 1/2 lbs. white sugar. Leave overnight. Next day, make a syrup by boiling together for 5 minutes:
1 pt. red currant juice (or rhubarb juice)
1 1/2 lbs. white sugar.
Add the contents of the bowl, and simmer until thick, about ten minutes.
Remember to carefully wash the berries, seal in hot sterilized jars, and process afterwords for approx. 10 minutes in boiling water.