Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Letters From The Barn: The Gift Of Elderberry Jam

Letters From The Barn: The Gift Of Elderberry Jam

I got the nicest gift the other day, a jar of elderberry jam. Now, I've never had elderberry jam before so I didn't know quite what to expect. The color reminded me of prickly pear jam, which I used to make years ago. It stained my hands the same shade of beautiful pink-purple that the elderberries seemed destined to stain my tongue.

When I made prickly pear jam, I'd find a cactus which wasn't hard to do. My yard grew cacti like other yards grow grass. Then, in the fall as their fruit (called tunas) matured into a beautiful purple, I'd harvest them. With tongs, did I mention that part? The only problem with fruit from a cactus is that it IS fruit from a cactus. Even the fruits have the tiniest hairs which are thorny.

You can scrape them off or burn them off over a fire, depending on whether you'd rather cut your hands or burn them while making jam. Always a nice choice to have, don't you think?

So, to have a nice jar of jam presented to me ready made was quite a treat. I went to the cupboard to find some bread to spread it on. Maybe something nice and hearty. But, no luck. Okay then, maybe something less exciting but still usable like white bread. Nothing doing.

I did find some saltines which at first disappointed me. But, as I was growing up, we used saltines for nearly everything. So, I opened the cabinet, pulled out the plastic container and began spreading this delicacy on them. Together, they were salty and sweet, much better than I expected. I enjoyed them far more with my elderberry jam than I would have the piece of rye bread I was hoping for.

As a child, we took saltines and topped them with ketchup for snacks. Today it sounds horrible, I know, but I still eat them that way occasionally. I seldom eat them with soup, which I guess is what they're made for. Maybe today for lunch, I'll try them that way, the proper way. Or, maybe I'll take out some other condiment like pickle relish instead and start a whole new (if rather odd) tradition. 

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Meriwether O'Connor

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