Bumper Crop

Sara Etgen-Baker

© Copyright 2023 by Sara Etgen-Baker
        Photo of Sara's mom.            
            Photo of Sara's mom.

Spring washed in like the tide, advancing confidently with warmth and sunshine one day and retreating the next. Some days the pansies and daffodils in Mother’s garden were bathed in lukewarm air that gently encouraged them; on others, the wintry wind gusted fiercely demanding a return to the bitterness of the months before. But like the tide, spring wouldn’t be stopped. Warming winds blew, banishing winter’s chill; brown grasses became lush, erasing the memory of their wintry selves; the air vibrated with birds singing; and the plum trees in our back yard budded with leaves and brilliant pink blossoms.

By May the pink blossoms had fallen off, replacing every branch and limb with sweet-tasting large red plums that ripened at once.

Bumper crop,” Mother announced, grabbing the bushel baskets from the shed. I followed her to the backyard, and together we spent the entire afternoon plucking plums from the vines, occasionally rubbing one clean on our shirts and biting into it quenching our parched throats with its juicy warmth and sweetness. By the end of the day, we’d picked so many plums that our fingers were sticky and our hands cramped.

Look!” Mother exclaimed. “We have over six bushels of plums—too many to eat before they rot in the baskets. Time to make plum jelly!”

The next morning Mother retrieved her jelly jars from the attic, carefully inspecting them for cracks and the rings for rust, tossing aside the defective ones. We immersed the jars in hot, simmering water until the jelly mixture was ready. We washed the plums; cut them in half removing the pits; combined them with sugar, and water in a large pot; and brought the mixture to a boil until it looked like thick plum soup. I added pectin to the mixture while she stirred until the consistency was, as she put it, just right. The sweet, savory aroma of plums and sugar wafted through the air. My stomach clenched with hunger as I thought of spreading delicious, red jelly on a piece of warm toast
Mother removed the mixture from the heat while I skimmed off the heavy foam and ladled the jelly into the hot, sterilized jars. “Wipe off the tops of the jars and place the lids on the top,” she instructed before screwing on the rings finger tight and returning the jars to the boiling water. After about 20 minutes, we removed them from the boiling water and placed them on the counter top.

When will we have jelly?” I asked, my mouth all but drooling.

After they’ve cooled and sealed. Just listen for the soft popping sound.”

I sat at the kitchen table, my chin resting in my hands, waiting and listening for what seemed like forever. Eventually, I heard the gentle, repetitive popping sound as each of the 45 jars announced “I’m ready.”

Later that afternoon, we treated ourselves to some of our congealed perfection, spreading it on a piece of warm toast. How delicious that jelly was! How priceless were the memories we made! Even now, I can still taste the sweetness of that jelly and cherish the magic of making memories with Mother that spring.

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