J is for Jelly

J is for Jelly

When my mom was 9 years old, she was very fond of her grandmother’s blackberry jelly. 

Every year, her grandparents would bring jars when they came to visit in the fall, made from Oregon blackberries they collected every year. While most of her family would spread a thin layer, my mom would do her best to spread the jelly thickly on her toast, adding a whole tablespoon without getting caught. The jelly was precious and it had to be savored and rationed, but it was so delicious. 

When my mom was 9, they ran out of jelly before the fall came. 

Every year, my mom and her family visited their grandparents in Florence, Oregon. That year, my great grandmother Ethel took my mother to her secret blackberry spot. It was an island in the middle of the Siuslaw River covered with blackberry bushes. The only way there was by boat. They brought lunches and water and spent the whole day gathering blackberries. My mom remembers that her hands were purple, not only from the juice, but also from the wicked brambles. They returned in the boat with buckets of berries and aching muscles. 

Once home, Grandma Ethel began a two day process making jelly. My mom remembers the cheesecloth hanging from the ceiling allowing the juice to drip into a pot below. 

It doesn’t take much wondering on my part to understand why Great Grandma Ethel made jelly (made from the juice of the berries) instead of jam (made from the crushed fruit). This was the same woman who fiercely defended her grandchildren by removing bones of the fresh salmon they caught along the coast with tweezers. She knew just how many bones were in each type of fish and she wouldn’t serve it until they were accounted for. No wonder she wanted her jelly smooth and free of seeds. 

After all of that work and all of those blackberries, they were left with a shockingly small amount of jelly which needed to last all year. Some went to my mom’s aunt and uncle and their family, some went to friends as gifts when they would visit, some stayed with my mom’s grandma and grandpa, and some went to my mom’s family, just a half dozen jars or so, to last until the next time the grandparents came into town, bearing the spoils of several days toil to warm the winter months. 

After that, my mom became the jelly police. When a member of her family tried to get away with just a hint more jelly than the others, she called out the transgression. She never picked blackberries with her grandma again, nor was she ever again present for the jelly-making, but she never forgot the price of those glass jars. 

One year, when I was about 9, my family lived in a rental house with vines of Concord grapes. Most of the time, we didn’t do much with them, although I would slip them into my mouth in the afternoons sometimes, removing the skin and the seeds with my tongue. I will always remember the time that my mom borrowed equipment and made Concord jelly, a process that took days, although the grape collecting wasn’t terribly intense. 

Now, I wonder if my mom thought of her grandmother as she extracted the juice from the grapes, hours over a hot stove. I wonder if she remembered those blackberries, and the hands of her 9-year-old self, stained purple once more. 


This post is the tenth installment of a series called A to Z, one for each letter of the alphabet. These posts will be in order, about whatever strikes my fancy, posted each Monday. 

To read "A is for Aravis" click here
To read "B is for Bacon" click here. 
To read "C is for Cake" click here. 
To read "D is for Depression" click here. 
To read "E is for Email" click here. 
To read "F is for Finally" click here. 
To read "G is for Grace" click here. 
To read "H is for Hope" click here. 
To read "I is for Infant" click here. 


Don't forget! You can still order my devotional art Advent and Christmas calendars (one or both). They are my attempt to bring beauty and hush into your Advent and Christmas season (and those of any lucky friends who might receive them as gifts). Each card has a beautiful illustration by Alicia Heater of Slightly Stationary and a short devotion on the reverse, written by me. 

Thanks to all of you who have already purchased, shared, gifted and offered me encouragement in this venture. 

{photo credit}