Ode to a time long past

Old Aunt Mary’s

Wasn’t it pleasant, O brother mine, In those old days of the lost sunshine Of youth—when the Saturday’s chores were through, And the “Sunday’s wood” in the kitchen, too, And we went visiting, “me and you,” Out to Old Aunt Mary’s?

It all comes back so clear today! Though I am as bald as you are gray—-Out by the barn-lot, and down the lane, We patter along in the dust again. As light as the tips of the drops of the rain, Out to Old Aunt Mary’s!

We cross the pasture, and through the wood Where the old gray snag of the poplar stood, Where the hammering red-heads hopped awry, And the buzzard “raised” in the clearing sky, And lolled and circled, as we went by, Out to Old Aunt Mary’s.

And then in the dust of the road again; And the teams we met, and the countrymen; And the long highway, with sunshine spread As thick as butter on country bread, Our cares behind, and our hearts ahead Out to Old Aunt Mary’s.

Why, I see her now in the open door, Where the little gourds grew up the sides, and o’er The clapboard roof!—And her face—ah, me! Wasn’t it good for a boy to see— And wasn’t it good for a boy to be Out to Old Aunt Mary’s?

The jelly—the jam and the marmalade, And the cherry and quince “preserves” she made! And the sweet-sour pickles of peach and pear, With cinnamon in ’em, and all things rare!— And the more we ate was the more to spare, Out to Old Aunt Mary’s!

And the old spring-house in the cool green gloom Of the willow-trees, and the cooler room Where the swinging-shelves and the crocks were kept-Where the cream in a golden languor slept While the waters gurgled and laughed and wept— Out to Old Aunt Mary’s.

And as many a time have you and I— Barefoot boys in the days gone by— Knelt, and in tremulous ecstasies Dipped our lips into sweets like these,— Memory now is on her knees Out to Old Aunt Mary’s!

And O, my brother, so far away, This is to tell you she waits today To welcome us:—Aunt Mary fell Asleep this morning, whispering, “Tell The boys to come!” And all is well Out to Old Aunt Mary’s. 

~ James Whitcomb Riley

October 7, 1853 – July 22, 1916

Tonight I put up nine 1-1/2 pint jars of raw pack peaches.  To be honest, I didn’t know they made “pint and a half jars.”  But the store did not have quart jars.  So I bought them and made my first ever canned halved peaches.  I actually made a big dent in peach box number one!  And it’s amazing when you organize your work space how fast the job gets done.  Even though I learned how to can from my mother a long time ago, if you don’t perform it regularly, you can forget things.  My mother would freeze corn and string beans, make applesauce and bread and butter pickles.  Even though I’m not a pickle fan, I did love her bread and butter pickles.  I know that recipe came from my grandmother and I need to ask if it was handed down by my great grandmother.  I remember, when we lived with my maternal grandparents on their farm in Maryland, the jars on the shelves in the cellar.  The cellar was a dark and dank place with a dirt floor.  Cob webs, old cans and odd looking tools laying about.   It was actually kind of creepy.  But there were those jars of food down there!  I can remember pickled beets and peaches.  My sister, Robin, should remember.  Ask her about the time she jumped on her pogo stick in the cellar!  That was classic!  When my mother or grandmother made applesauce, they used a food sieve with a wooden masher.   Similar to this photo, but the one she has actually fits over a bowl.  I am hoping that one day it gets passed down to me so I can use it again to make applesauce and to remember those special times.

Over the years I would make my own applesauce and jams and give them away as Christmas gifts.  Then there would be years that I didn’t can anything.  We get busy it seems and things aren’t as important as they once were.  But those times are changing for me.  Now more than ever it’s important to know where your food comes from and canning is a good life skill to have.  And as you get older, you start thinking about the times and people that once were.  Oh the memories of days past.  And with a future grandchild due to arrive in early 2013, I want to make sure these memories of people and places and customs are shared.  At one time I thought my daughter wasn’t interested in gardening, but in the past 5 years her interest has grown.  You see, my mother’s family has a long history of farming and gardening and most all of us have green thumbs.  Her grandparents had three farms in Maryland and my grandmother and her two brothers were each given a farm when they married.  Even though my grandmother’s farm is long gone, the memories have never left.  Many of them come back to me when I am canning.

So it’s more than just preserving the harvest, it’s about preserving memories!  I did not teach my daughter how to can, but I plan to one day soon so that we can both pass this down to her children.  I can’t wait to share the memories and to develop new ones!  And I hope the old applesauce maker is part of that experience!

5 Replies to “Ode to a time long past”

  1. takes me back to my own “Old Aunt Mary.” Wonderful tribute. I have that old sieve and the mortar … somewhere, if I can find it you can have it.

  2. This is inspiring!! I depend way too much on my freezer and I don’t want to. I didn’t have anyone to learn it from but am confident I can teach myself. Heck, there’s likely little community classes somewhere so I’ll watch for that. I REALLY want to can food, and enjoy my own produce through the winter, and all year. Thanks for getting me going on this again 🙂 Great post!

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