I stood in my grandparents’ kitchen, watching the steam curl through the air above the big pot on the stove. It was an annual ritual, as far back as memory would take me: grandpa was making jelly.
Unable to stand for long periods of time due to 1)arthritic knees, Grandpa would get his juices cooking, then drag over one of the kitchen chairs and sit next to the stove. With an elbow 2)propped on the counter top, he stirred the pot with a wooden spoon. I would tiptoe to see what it looked like, but I was too small to peek over the top. From what I could tell, though, Grandpa couldn’t stretch high enough to see in, either.
“How can you tell when it’s ready, Pa?”
“I can tell.”
He would smile at my impatient 3)fidgeting. Most children like jelly, but to me, Grandpa’s was special. It was made from the plums we picked in the yard. While he picked the ones still swinging high in the branches of the little plum tree, I picked up the ones that had been knocked down. Green, overripe or 4)bruised, my contributions were tossed right along with his into the bucket.
Washing the plums in the sink, Grandpa would sort out and discreetly dispose of the unsuitable fruit. Then we steamed the plums, strained the juices and prepared the jars. Quite possibly, I was more of a 5)hindrance than a help, but Grandpa never complained or lost patience.
I can remember the first time he told me his recipe.“There’s an art to making good jelly,” he lowered his voice and told me. “Worms and all, Pammy, that’s the secret. Worms and all.”
6)Aghast, I’m sure, I made faces, while telling him I’d never eat worms. No way! Grandpa threw back his head and laughed. Amusement danced in his eyes.
Then, at long last, the jelly was ready to eat. Jelly jars sat in rows on the tabletop, with the sunlight shining through the window behind. The deep 7)maroon color would lighten to a brilliant red, and the gold tops and rims would glow. We spooned jelly onto bread and folded it over into sandwiches.
I watched Grandpa take that first bite. Surely, if there were worms involved, he wouldn’t be eating it, would he? Feeling assured that it was another of Grandpa’s jokes, I began to eat, too.
Grandma 8)eyed us both suspiciously.
“Merle, have you been telling her there were worms in those plums? Mercy! Don’t you be listening to him, girl! He just says that, so there’ll be more jelly left for him.”Grandpa laughed deeply as he spooned more jelly onto the bread.
Each year was the same. While stirring the juice over the stove, Grandpa would share his recipe with me. He would lower his voice and bend over, so he could look me in the eye, telling me, “Worms and all, Pammy. That’s the secret.” Then, the laughter would come. I imagined that this was a secret he was passing down only to me. Quite possibly, though, he spoke softly, just so Grandma wouldn’t hear from the next room.
The year after Grandpa passed away, my new husband and I moved into a little home in the country. There was a lovely little wild plum tree in the backyard. I waited eagerly for those tiny, hard, green plums to ripen, so I could try my hand at jelly making. It took almost a week of gathering daily to get enough to make even one 9)batch of jelly. I carefully sorted, washed and double-checked the fruit.
Following what I could remember from watching Grandpa all those years ago, I succeeded in making a passable plum jelly at my first attempt. Proud of my accomplishment, I showed the shelf full of jelly jars to my dad.
He held one up and admired the sunlight, shining red through the glass. I imagined his taste buds, waiting for his first bite. Then, I casually mentioned that I had used Grandpa’s recipe.The look of delight faded from Dad’s face as he turned slowly to look at me. Then he asked, “Worms and all?”
At the end of his visit, he only took one jar home with him. His lack of interest in my culinary skills didn’t bother me, though.
As I spread a sweet spoonful onto a bite of toast, I thought with a smile, “It just leaves more jelly for me.”