Towards the end of the summer I tend to feel like the housewife above. Armloads of work can be overwhelming at times. Now and then I go back and read my blog "I'm Tired" to remind myself that this year is not as overwhelming as the year I decided to can tomatoes and make sauce all summer. Thursday evening, as I drove home from a hectic day at the office, all I could think was "I don't want to freeze corn, and I don't want to make Jelly." Of course corn won't freeze itself and jelly sure as heck won't make itself... All I really wanted to do was go home, kick off my shoes, and collapse on the bed. Instead, I was up until 9pm cleaning sticky plum goo and stray corn kernels up from the kitchen.
It has been several years now since we've bought a canned vegetable, store bought pickle, potato or onion. Now and then I'll buy something fresh, particularly those pretend baby carrots, and Tim loves fresh cauliflower and my horse loves fresh celery in the winter. Making sure a year's worth of corn and beans and peas and potatoes (and onions and garlic) are "put by" takes a lot of your leisure time. And then there is my aversion to letting things go to waste. Like the wild plums.
Once again there was a bounty of them to be picked. The past two years there wasn't enough to bother with. This year I noted that there are three distinct varieties in the bush. The ones above are fairly large, oblong, and dark almost like Damson plums.
My favorite are midsized and very round, the color of Queen Anne sweet cherries.
A brief history on the plums. I first spotted them while riding my horse along the cornfield in 2010. A couple of weeks later, my mother and I went back to investigate them. Mom picked about five pounds of them and declared that due to their varied sizes, they would be perfect for making jelly. And then she put them in my car! This led to my first attempt at jelly.
We don't know where the plums came from. I've wandered this farm for all of my 40+ years and I'd never seen them. My mother has wandered the farm for her 60+ and she'd never seen them. Our best guess is this: up until about 40 years ago when this half acre lot was turned into a horse paddock, so that my grand mother could watch her horse out the kitchen window, this site had been the farm garden. Sometime, mid century, either my grandmother, or her mother-in-law before her, or some earlier occupant that we don't know as long as 200 years ago, probably walked out the kitchen door and threw a bunch of plum pits and skins out in the edge of the field on the other side of the garden. There they hid in the fence row, keeping a low profile, undiscovered and undisturbed and took hold. Eventually became large enough to produce fruit. Then one day along came a woman on a horse...
So, back to hard work and my aversion to letting things go to waste. Last Thursday evening I made a lovely batch of wild plum jelly. By the next evening I had given away half of them. This convinced me that I needed to make another batch. So Saturday morning I was back out in the plum bush picking plums. It wasn't as easy the second time. I had to push further into the branches, poking myself in the head and scratching my arms to reach the next layer of plums. But all those beautiful plums... such abundance and beauty makes me greedy. I want every last one. I scoured the grass for the ones that dropped, and I pulled down the branches so I could reach every one of the beautiful "Queen Anne" plums. When I got out I warned my mother than while there were still plenty to be had they were passing their prime and getting harder to reach.
Later that evening, I got an email from her outlining how she managed the latest victory in her battle to prevent fruit wastage... it seems my step-father had a cow that was avoiding capture, so Mom headed into Amish country to get reinforcements "who understood cattle". She returned with Mosey and Irvin and Irvin's two sons Levi and Reuben. The cow was quickly cornered and penned up. But Mom now had a willing crew, plucked out of their evening routine, and as usual, ready to get into anything Mom suggests. Time to pick those plums. Amish can work circles around most English folks, and they're not afraid of getting dirty, scratched up, and otherwise mauled. They are expert pickers. Mom sent them into the plum bush. They came out with an estimated 40 pounds of plums. That's about 8 batches of jelly. Mom sent them home with their share for their wives to process, and the plums have not gone to waste. Hurrah!
Now if you'll excuse me, I have some beans to blanch...