Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Winter Jelly

Like a fine wine

Winter Jelly

I woke in the night to the howl of the wind battering the west wall of my house. A Chinook wind, the warm wind. I snuggled beneath my quilts and went back to sleep with a smile on my face. The first sound I heard when I awoke was the call of a mourning dove, the first dove of the year. I stuck my head out the door. Yes, the thermometer actually registered above freezing. Then and there I underwent a definite change in mind, body and spirit. Spring fever flooded every iota of my being.

February’s mail had brought seed and garden catalogs. Lovingly, I spread them out on my dining table and began dreaming of the day, still months ahead, when I could be digging, once again, in the dirt. I read my new herb book, purchased from the library’s discard rack for twenty-five cents, and planned another herb bed, or maybe two. I was restless. I looked around the house. Spring cleaning might be in order. I quickly buried that thought.

I paced from front door to back door, stopping at window vistas. The snow-banks did not magically disappear. I yearned for spring, longed for summer. Then I had an idea. I would make a batch of jelly.

Few sights are more beautiful, more satisfying to me than rows of canning jars filled with summer bounty lining the shelves of my basement pantry. Now you must understand, I have put up a life-time supply of jelly. It doesn’t matter. I love making jelly. I give it away with abandon, knowing that each year I will make more. How much more depends on the summer’s yield of fruit. Last year I had abundance, more fruit than time, more fruit than jars, so I stored bags of apples, raspberries, rhubarb and June berries in my freezer, some for pies, some a hedge against a sparse harvest next year.

I poured a bag of June berries into my kettle. I chopped up some juicy apples from the bowl on the counter, remembered a nearly empty bag of raisins, tossed them in. I thought cranberries might add an interesting element. A couple of handfuls, not too many. Then I noticed, in the lost and found department of my freezer, a pint of choke cherry juice. In it went. I set the pot on the stove to simmer.

Jelly making is a lengthy process, but well worth the hours of preparation, the trips up and down stairs for jars, ingredients, tools and kettles, followed by boiling and stirring and pouring and filling and processing.

Now rows of jars cool atop towels spread over the garden catalogs. I set one jar aside for tasting and immediate use.

I lift the jar and turn it, watch the sun’s rays enhance the brilliant ruby jewel tones. I hold the jar to my nose and sniff the earthy fragrance, elegant and flowery, with an explosion of spring. I dip in a spoon and lift the rich jell, lively with a perfect rounded shimmer, smooth and vigorous, clear yet velvety, noble. I rest a taste on my tongue. I find the blend complex, mouth filling and robust. Fruity with full-bodied balance, a vibrant banquet in a jar. Oh, what jelly!

This jelly could stand next to the finest wines without embarrassment. This jelly deserves the Grand Prize Purple Ribbon. I generously slather a slice of toast and savor a fruity bouquet of summer.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

February 17, 2011

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