Eons ago, when I was a child, every Australian back garden had a selection of fruit trees growing – a lemon, orange, plum, apricot and peach were the most common. Families with a larger garden also planted nectarines, mulberry, fig, crab apple, quince, pomegranate and other more exotic fruit producing trees like banana , paw paw or mango in tropical regions.
Many families also had productive vegetable patches for tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, lettuce, leeks and numerous summer and winter produce, plus the basic herbs such as parsley, mint, rosemary, sage and thyme.
Invariably, the fruit and vegetables all ripened about the same week during our long summer holidays and my sister and I spent many long hot days de-stoning and chopping fruit to either turn into jam or to be preserved in Mum’s Vacola preserving kit. For some reason that escapes me, the recipes for each batch of jam called for 6 lbs of fruit and a corresponding 6 lbs of sugar (which Mum bought by the sack especially for this purpose).
During the year, each jar, once it had been scraped clean of its delectable jam, was carefully scrubbed clean with old labels removed and stored away for the next summer’s bounty. Mum loved opening the pantry door to visitors and pressing a jar of Apricot Jam or Peach Chutney into a guest’s hands before they left our home. The pyramid of bottled plums, apricots and peaches were always on hand to fill a pie or be sliced into a sponge cake or pavlova, or just to be served as dessert with some cream or ice cream.
Preparing fruit for jam was a task that I really enjoyed, as I could do it on ‘automatic pilot’ and daydream at the same time. I wasn’t fond of preparing Satsuma plums because their rich dark purple juice stained my hands and Mum made me squeeze lemon juice on them to get them clean again! Ouch, the lemon juice stung but it did whiten my hands again.
What summer memories from your childhood stand out in your mind? Was your summer filled with sun and surf, sunburn cream and wet, sandy bathers? Perhaps your family went camping for a couple of weeks and Dad taught you how to catch and clean fish? Or maybe you, like I, recall the hot sugary aroma of jam cooking in the large preserving pan on the stove, simmering until ‘set point’ was reached and the hot jam was poured into jars to solidify into jars of jewel coloured deliousness?
Each and every summer since I was a small child I have captured the warm succulent fruits and vegetables of our Australian summer and turned them into jams, jellies, chutneys, pickles and sauces to enhance the meals I cook for family and friends. I believe that a jar or bottle of home-made preserves is a priceless gift to give, but, best of all, it is an activity I LOVE.
Your summer stories, like mine, are worth bottling for future family generations.
You're absolutely right Annie. It's winter on this end of the planet at the moment and the thought of summer harvest is tantalizing to say the least. I look forward to the day when we can visit you guys.
As a child we cut and stacked bailed hay, milked cows and scraped cow dung. But, we ate the "fruits" of our labor in sweet corn seconds off the stalk as well as fresh green beans and potatoes. Put hamburgers on the grill and it's summer time!!
Annie how you brought me right bake to my Mothers kitchen when she was canning. Oh how she loved gardening and we too had apple trees and strawberry plants. Now the blueberries grew wild in the woods behind our house and my 3 sisters and I would take buckets and off we'd go picking blueberries, till our buckets were full and so were our bellies. Our hand would be blue just like our tongues from eating so many along the way. Oh how yummy they were! Me Mother was so clever and just made everything from scratch.
Loved your story and wished I was there with you, love, Christine