Off North Road

Beach plum jelly

By Russell Hoxsie - September 20, 2007

Jane Brown gave us a jar of beach plum jelly, burgundy reflected southern sun in the fall; clarity and hue like merlot only lighter; inside the jar firmness, spreader slipping in, piercing incredible smoothness, slippery in its depth, the shimmer and jiggle of its broken contours descending to golden toast.

Beach plum with bread crumbs melting in my mouth changed me forever. Sharpness and sweetness penetrated my taste buds. I wanted more. Peasant bread from the Black Dog took on imperial majesty. Crunch of toast, sliding of jelly, morning replenishment now a gustatory treat, all the finer feelings I lack at first rising.

I am in Aunt Maude's Providence kitchen, her back bent and red hair grayed with time, her Eleanor Roosevelt voice as she reached for the Ritz cracker and spread, no, plopped a dollop of jelly square in the center. The Mt. Washington dose of sweet demanded her full open mouth to receive. For a simple plain lady with a closely held purse a moment of extravagance.

I am in all the kitchens of all the women of childhood: grandmother, aunts, friends' mothers, in their pantries, cellars, their storerooms. Jars and jars of preserves in bottles, half-pints, quarts, sometimes gallons - greens, whites, reds, yellows. Steaming summer kitchens, endless wiping of glass jars, counter tops, spills on the floor. Mother was sick one summer. Dad did tomatoes, all sauce we'd never tried, never ate afterwards, down the sides of the counter, all over the stove. Mother got sick again when we told her the mess Dad made.

My grandfather's growing produce processed in those kitchens, clean hands, chopping knives and paring tools, spoons, forks and boiling water, kettles steaming, heat rising in eighty degree August evenings. The bragging and tales of numbers, shelves groaning. Lids opening in November and January to green beans, onions, beets and carrots. If we were lucky apple sauce made it to March, the jellies and jams to the first rhubarb in April.

This morning I finished the jar of Jane's beach plum. The closer I came to the bottom, firmness gave way to evasive globules. The spreader lost most of its dredgings, gloppy stuff spilled from tool to bottom as if it to preserve its last vestige of taste, finally yielding to tipping and pouring. My finger swept inside gleaning a last lip-smear. Still the color was right, reflections dispersed across the white counter in small lumps of purple light. My toast this morning I savored as when saying good-bye to an old friend.