“Your dad used to like elderberry jam,” my mom said tonight. “I didn’t, but I made it for him.” I didn’t remember any elderberry jam, but this was in the time after I moved out in 1989, but they stayed on the farm in Chesterfield Township until 1993. Elderberry seems pretty exotic, though I know it’s actually more common and I’m just underexposed to it. It grew wild in a corner of the field; somehow I’d never found it in my explorations.
Mom and I talked a lot about the farm days tonight. We moved there in 1974, when my sister and I were in middle school. She was very enthusiastically into canning and preserving foods that my parents grew there, in several different beds throughout the five acres we were renting. Mom said that when she went to the basement and saw the rows of canned goods on the shelves, it made her very happy. Proud, too, I suspect. Tomato sauces, beans, corn, jams and jellies, pickles… eventually she made the fixings for soups and stored them there too. She also froze vegetables. This was normal for me, although I suspect if I thought to ask my school friends, canning would’ve been pretty unfamiliar to most of them. Looking back, I realize that my parents did all the gardening and preserving because money was tight, especially when I was at college and then later when my sister and her young son lived there. At the time, though, I wasn’t concerned about being short of money. Because of their efforts with the garden, we always had full, tasty meals. But I also know that both my mom and dad enjoyed the work very much, even if they had children who didn’t seem to really “get it.”
I easily become nostalgic for Mom’s canning. She stopped doing it when they moved from the farm in 1993, and I think she misses it a lot even though it would be very hard for her now. She has said that those days were the happiest she ever had been. I have one specific memory that I wish I could have for real again: for a couple of years, she made a ketchup that had such interesting spices, it’s been unique in my experience. Certainly nothing store-bought compares. If she could find the recipe, I would go buy the tomatoes and all the equipment and make it. Canning is about as far from my usual practice as I can actually consider, given that I’m only now really trying to cook frequently again. But I would make an exception if I could come up with that catsup.