This is something that I posted on eGullet.org last summer:
I’ve been spending most of my weekends lately going to Reidsville NC to visit my grandmother who is in a rehab center working to recover from a stroke. Most of my childhood summers were spent in Reidsville with my grandparents on their farm. So many of my food memories, tastes and lessons were learned there. Either in my grandmother’s (or others’) kitchen, in the cafes that my grandfather took me for ‘dinner’ (lunch to Yankees) and at church suppers. Granddaddy had 80 acres and 30-some head of cattle, so we ate LOTS of beef. One of his friends had a huge vegetable farm and pigs. His tenants cooked exotic things like fried fatback and hog jowls and took me to tent revivals (slightly alarming to my Episcopal soul) where the food afterwards was always delicious, warm and always slightly damp from being covered with foil in the summer humidity. I remember my grandfather taking me along to the Tire company where he did business (along with a poker game) and, while he was busy I’d visit with the men in the factory, who would always buy me a Co’cola and a Tom’s peanut bar.
There is one pear tree left in my granddaddy’s orchard. Where there used to be almost two dozen assorted apple and pear trees. Snugged up next was a cow pasture where gathered the whole 30-some of them, chewing and drooling, their eyes entreating us to toss them the apple cores they loved so dearly. In spite of Granddaddy’s threats of switchings to come if I overfed them, I always obliged with a few. And never got the switch, either. Granddaddy was a tough talker, but soft inside.
Those apples were tiny and puckeringly tart – cooking apples, I suppose. They dried out the inside of your mouth like you’d been eating alum. Mostly, Grandma Jean cooked with them. But small, sour apples are still my favorites. The pears were small, too. Crunchy, with no pear-y juiciness. But they made the most divine pear preserves.
Granddaddy is gone now. Grandma Jean’s recovery from a stroke and return to home is questionable. The old log house and the huge, sheltering tree are gone and where there were cows and a barn and an old tobacco shed are new houses and a road (!!!). But the pear tree is there and Granddaddy’s shop still gives off a wispy scent of machine oil, hay and cigar smoke.
When I was there a couple of weekends ago, I dragged a step ladder out to the pear tree and picked all I could reach. I thought we’d eat what we could at home. But a couple of nights ago, I was driven to make some of Grandma Jean’s preserves. I had no business making preserves! I needed to do laundry and clean at least one bathroom. Or go to bed early. But I needed to make those preserves…I needed to TASTE those preserves.
So I peeled and cut up the pears:
I finally found a use for the useless (to me) Y peeler – it is wonderful for peeling extremely hard pears with very stubborn peels!
Added lemon juice and sugar and let them sit overnight:
Last night when I got home from work, I boiled them down and put them in jars, not forgetting to add the lemon slice that Grandma Jean always adds. Sometimes, when I make them, I add a slice of ginger, but not this time; this time I want HER preserves, not my version.
There weren’t a lot of pears. There was only enough for two jars:
One for me and one for Momma. I may never have these exact preserves again – it is a very old, gnarled tree – and who knows what will happen to it by next year. But for now, I have that jar and these preserves:
And they taste like sunshine and autumn and my grandparents and my childhood. All in one spoonful!
UPDATE: This was written last August and Grandma Jean is home and doing very well. Her speech is still effected by the stroke, but she’s ‘graduated’ from speech therapy and getting around very well. Her friend, Judy - a warm and loving and exceedingly wacky lady – stays with Grandma Jean and they take care of one another. Each providing something that the other needs. It’s always been an equal friendship and doesn’t stop because of Grandma Jean’s stroke. I looked at the tree the last time I was down and I think that I may be able to get a few pears from it again this year. If so, I’ll grab a few and sneak them home to make some preserves. My dear friend, Rachel (if you haven’t yet GO TO HER BLOG – Lawn Tea – and lose yourself in her incomparable writing) suggested a Fried Green Tomatoes moment (when Evelyn brings Ninnie the covered plate) for Grandma Jean – only with hot biscuits and the preserves. I hope to do just that thing.