Food, Family, and Memory

preserves lg There is a difference between jam and preserves.  Jam is sweet fruit you spread on toast.  Preserves are a frozen moment in time—a piece of summer that you can carry with you the rest of the year:  high grass, long naps, warm evenings, your front porch… 

My neighbor Mary Wellington makes preserves.

Mary is a farmer.  And not only a single-family farmer--a single farmer.  She works three acres of very diverse orchards of Glenn Annie canyon all by herself, on which she grows over fifty varieties of fruit. 

Her preserves were so treasured and ubiquitous at local farmer’s markets that many people came to call her “The Jam Lady.” Her Blenheim Apricot jam is intoxicating.  Her Blood Orange marmalade is insane.  The red raspberry is well… indescribable.  But Mary Wellington preserves more than fruit.

If you wander up Glen Annie you will find a two story clapboard farmhouse peeking out from behind the persimmon tree.  Mary will greet you with her typical burst of enthusiasm and a clap of her hands.  She will launch into an impromptu tour of her orchard and its latest bounty:  You will flit from tree to tree sampling God’s offerings in a feast of the senses that is literally Edenic.  (I know I get religious about food—but I was raised that way.)   Taste the Santa Rosas… Smell the outside of this blood orange… Look at the color on these apricots... Oh don’t mind the bruise—just taste it.

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larryking2.jpgLarry King is my spirit animal. When my brother and I were at El Rodeo Middle School and Beverly Hills High School, respectively, we would often ditch our morning classes and go instead for lox and bagels at Nate & Al’s. If we saw Larry King, we knew it would be a good day. Don’t tell my Mom we ditched, although I’m sure deep down she would have approved. Nate & Al’s was a Concord jet to New York in the middle of Beverly Drive. In fact, I once threw a party in New York and my mother insisted on ordering the hot dogs all the way from Nate & Al’s.

Besides the point, but there was a large fiasco that involved my Mother and both her sisters concerning the foot-long hot dogs that arrived with the lack of foot-long hot dog buns. My Aunt who was hosting the party had a nightmare that the end of the hot dog sticking out of the too short buns would cause ketchup, mustard and the like to spill all over her flawless living room. It was fun without responsibility, and not the kind of party she wanted to be having, so she called their eldest sister to get involved and solve the problem. “I’ll take care of this,” my one Aunt assured the other, and sure enough, the next day a box from Nate & Al’s arrived at my Aunt’s door. But inside were 100 foot-long hot dogs and packs and packs of standard size hot dog buns. So now we had 200 foot-long hot dogs and zero useful hot dog buns, for a party for 35 people. My Mom promptly called Juniors, who referred us to their bakery, and the next day a guy showed up at my aunt’s door with 200 foot long hot dog buns delivered straight from Brooklyn. He didn’t even charge us, which I don’t understand, although if you knew my family stranger things have happened than a guy in coveralls delivering 200 foot long hot buns from Brooklyn on a Saturday for free.

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My favorite all time saying is that 'you can pick and choose your friends but not your family.' Perhaps that's because I have some extended family members who are constant reminders of that famous quote.

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My immediate family is very close as well as my 1st cousins, aunts and uncles and for the most part, I would choose to be friends with them. However, I do have some cousins "that don't know me and I don't know them" and would prefer to keep it that way. I have been known to desert my grocery cart and flee when I catch a glimpse of them at the grocery store. These people and their lifestyles made Jeff Foxworthy rich and famous.

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joy_of_cooking1.jpg I have a 1932 copy of The Joy of Cooking that’s being held together at the spine with duct tape. The book, like so many things my mother gave me or tried to impart to me, has become a cherished item only years after her death.

I wasn’t that close to my mother. I know she loved me very much, but she was a talented woman who was bored to death with mothering (I have two older siblings) by the time my twin brother and I came along. I can dig it. I would have had more kids myself, but if I had to sing “Wheels on The Bus” one more time, someone was gonna get hurt.

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sap-bucket.jpgPerhaps it's my New England roots, but many of my favorite recipes, both savory and sweet, include maple syrup as a key ingredient. Of course, I always have it on hand to adorn things like my Crispy French Toast, Banana Pancakes, and Fluffy Buttermilk Waffles or to drizzle over my steel cut oatmeal, but I keep a major reserve to use as a "secret ingredient" in many of my other recipes. And this is the time of year that I begin to replenish my personal supply of 100% pure maple syrup.

There is no sweeter harbinger of spring than the sugary sap that flows from maple trees around the middle of March in Northern New England. In late winter and early spring, the roots of the maple trees are loaded with a clear, sweet liquid and it is the ideal combination of freezing nights and warm days that induces sap flow. The change in temperature from above to below freezing causes water uptake from the soil, and temperatures above freezing cause a stem pressure to develop, which allows the sap to flow out of tap holes made in the tree trunks. We had several maple trees at our house, and my brother and I, after a few hours of playing in the snow, would rejuvenate ourselves by sneaking handfuls of the sugary water-like sap from the gray lidded tin buckets that my Dad put out each year to collect the sap.

It was not uncommon to take a "Sunday drive" with my parents and head off to one of the many local "sugar houses" to watch the actual maple syrup production. You could spot them in the distance with the plumes of steam and smoke and, as you got closer, you could actually begin to smell the maple aroma in the air.

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