Saturday, March 3, 2012

Black Raspberry Memories

I wish I could have my Grandmother's Black Raspberry Jam.  Right now.  Spread on thick, warm, whole wheat, crusty fresh toast.  The poor folks in Ireland in Frank McCourt's  'Angela's Ashes' ate toast and jam for most meals, it seems, sometimes with sweet cream butter.  To me, it is a flavor of my youth, a memory that I do not ever wish to forget.  A luxurious natural sweetness that tasted of the berry and only the berry.  The jam jar came topped with wax from the larder that was Granny's pantry.  It was always taken best on their back porch on a sultry warm July morning. 

Newly refreshed from sleeping in the room and the bed that bore my father in his youth (and staring at his stuffed Caimen from South America - another story entirely) I would bound down the polished cherry wood stairs and trundle past the stare of the Flower Girl in the hallway, which now resides on the wall in my front door entrance way.  Granny, adorned in apron with combs holding back her long red locks, would be making breakfast in the pantry and Grandad solving the New York Times crossword puzzle and drinking his cream-laden coffee from the saucer, as was his habit, would be ensconced at the kitchen table. 

On perfect mornings we would adjourn on the back porch.  Seated at the wooden table in the blue painted summer chairs, the screened in porch would keep the birds out in the morning and the summer bugs at bay in the evening under a solitary bulb hanging from the ceiling.  I am salivating now thinking of that jam, my trigeminal nerve pulsing with my memory of taste.  Granny would bring the toast to the table and I was allowed to do my own slathering.  I could put a mean slather on my toast.  Debatable whether or not the toast came with the jam or the jam with the toast it was the taste of the berry, the flavor of the summer sun, the juicy explosion of nature and nurture.  Her plants and bushes were out next to the garage, where the sun would beat down and the heat would reflect off the white building, adding additional convection to ripening the berries.  The cool summer evenings and warm sunny days allowed the natural fruit sugars to form. Rubus occidentalis is the bush in question in the Eastern United States, especially in New England.  The berries were grown organicly, growing in the composted matter that was always being worked by Granny. 

She was born just after the turn of the 19th century and the first frugal person I knew in my life.  The other splendorous foods in our lives together were tomatoes, corn, Split-Pea Soup, Welsh Rarebit (I never did find any rabbit under the cheese placed before me...) and Grandad's Grilled Chicken.  I tasted my first coffee with them, drank my first swigs of beer (Miller Genuine Ale, always ice cold, because it was the Champagne of Beers) and took the first ever drags of his own-rolled cigarette.  Their home was something akin to a child's wonderment of Hogwat's Castle and living within a Charles Dicken's novel...  Grandad was a storyteller and the grandchildren were always the featured performers in his narratives. 

But this is about Black Raspberries.  The closest I have come to anything purely, truly and worthy of her black raspberry jam has been the Jam from George Washington's Mount Vernon estate and the Black Raspberry Ice Cream cone I devoured on Route 20 in upstate New York last summer...  It is a specific time and a specific metaphor that will always, when I dwell on it or when I find that particular flavor, bring me back to New England, back to the house on the hill, back to the porch and the toast laden with jam from my Grandmother's Black Raspberry bushes.  Peace.

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