Plum-Picking DaysBlog / Produced by The High Calling
With the sun barely peeking over the horizon, Mom woke me with the announcement, “It’s plum-picking time.”
“No,” I moaned, pulling the covers over my head. To me, picking plums was about as fun as a pop quiz on early American history.
“Put on your long sleeves and pants,” she said, with no sympathy at all.
Despite our protests, after a hearty breakfast, Mom drove my brother, Will, and I to a thicket. Will was ten; I was eleven and a half. We took the black rubber buckets, crawled into the middle of a bush, and kept our eyes peeled for snakes. True to form, Will made frequent hissing noises, and I whacked him often with my bucket.
While we worked our way around the inside of the bushes, picking the crimson and orange berries which hung like Christmas balls, Mom harvested the plums on the outside of the thicket. I’d wince when a thorn pricked my finger, muttering under my breath at the injustice of life.
But every once in awhile, I plucked a ruby-red plum, wiped it on my shirt, and popped it in my mouth. As I bit down, the warm juice exploded in my mouth.
We took frequent breaks from the Texas heat to drink iced lemonade from a jug. But we never sat for long; we wanted to get finished before the most intense heat set in.
After about three hours, just when I was ready to run away and never come back, Mom announced, “That’s it for today.”
We loaded up and drove back across the meadow to the house, where Will and I collapsed on the living room sofa in a stupor. I fell asleep before I even had a chance to wash up. When I woke, Mom had already washed the fruit and set them on big, white, cotton towels.
Over the next three days, we picked each morning, and the plums in the kitchen slowly turned from red and orange to a dark purple. We stored the ripe ones in the fridge until we had enough to make about a hundred jars of jam. For several nights in a row, Mom boiled Mason jars in hot soapy water and then sterilized them—the rings and lids, too—in a big pan of water. Those, too, she dried on towels.
The making of the jelly and jam was just as tedious as picking the plums, but at least it happened inside out of the sun’s reach. Mom cooked the ripened plums for about twenty minutes until the skin came off. Then she mashed them with a mortar and pestle, collecting the juice in a pan below. Will and I scraped off the fruit from the outside of the pestle, setting it aside to use if we made plum jam.
“This is so boring!” Will would complain. “And it’s hard!”
“Anything worthwhile is hard work,” Mom would say. “And don’t you like plum jelly on your biscuits?”
“Yes,” I said. “But we can buy it at the store.”
She’d just smile and say, “I suppose we could.”
After mixing the fruit with sugar and pectin, Mom brought the mixture to a high boil and let it cook for several minutes. Then she dipped it out with a glass jar, pouring it into the up-turned Mason jars. Finally, the sugar and fruit mixture got topped with a quarter to half inch of melted wax, the gold ring, and the lid. And then it was stored in our basement on wooden shelves, to be given as Christmas gifts or enjoyed on biscuits when the heat of summer sun was just a memory.
Our days of plum-picking and cooking didn’t last long—maybe three summers. But to this day, when someone gives me a jar of homemade plum jelly, my mouth starts to water, and I can feel the Texas heat on my back.
Image by Alan Sheffield. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Welcome Editor Dena Dyer, author of Grace for the Race: Meditations for Busy Moms.