Featured

Snow drought is over but is my writer’s drought?


Snowy front deck 2/2/23 (look through Japanese Maple and to your right

In the above photo, if you squint through the middle of the Japanese maple, shift your vision slightly to the right, and use a smidge of imagination, you’ll see part of our front walkway covered in snow. Yes, our snow drought here in southwest Virginia is over. We’ve had no snow in December 2022 or January 2023. Each winter Blacksburg usually receives a foot of white powder, but this year snow has been AWOL, much like my blog writing.

I ask you to imagine snow on our deck and if you can’t, here’s a photo from March 2022.

Hold that image. The front deck walkway covered in snow is important because it helped me with my writer’s drought.

When we first woke up Thursday morning and saw the snow, my husband suggested that it would be good to sweep the snow off the walkway. Except for a few years here and there like Atlanta, Georgia, and the Kwajalein Islands, he’s lived mainly in New Jersey, snow country. 

So I listen to him about snow removal as he knows more about that subject than I who had always lived in the South, except for these last ten years in Blacksburg. For me, Blacksburg is semi-south, as it gets way more snow than I ever had to snowplow or shovel in 62 southern years. I’ve learned it’s best to remove it quickly before it melts during the warm part of the day and then refreezes at night to form a lovely skating rink on your front deck.

I get the big broom because John said sweep the walkway. In my heart I know he really means shovel. We’ve known each other for 11 years, and by now I can translate the spoken word to the unspoken meaning. Instead of following my intuition and because I don’t like the snow shovel, I started with the broom.

When I had swept about halfway down the walk, my boots and broom left impacted snow, sure to be hard to remove with a broom. Immediately I halted and retrieved the hated snow shovel. I always think it is much heavier than it is. 

But Voila! This snow was fluffy, the shovel light, and I cleared the deck having fun as I pitched the sugar-like snow onto the ground where it belonged. I still had those impacted snow prints that I had to carefully remove with the shovel. I did not want to scrape up paint with the impacted snow.


Almost clean deck except for those darn boot and broom prints.

As I looked down at my fairly clean deck with only those icy boot and broom imprints, I thought about my struggle to write this blog. Sometimes I have the wrong tools (like the broom):

  1. My laptop is not charged so I can’t escape to the loft where I feel comfortable writing. 
  2. I’m out in the car and see a situation or experience a moment that inspires me, but I have no notebook or pen for jotting down the idea. 
  3. I think that Word Press is just too difficult (I long for PageMaker) to quickly post my ideas and photos—too much hassle and my ideas fade away, much like the snow did on Thursday. 

But I can avoid those problems. I can keep the laptop charged, store pens and tiny notebooks in my purse, and sign up for Word Press classes (if only I could figure out those international hours). I’ll do these tasks because I must think of myself as a blogger. I must take myself seriously. My son Michael encourages me to acknowledge I am a writer and to act like one! He sounds more like the parent and I the offspring. My writing sisters Sarah, Alice, Alisa, Anne, Jennifer, and Betty do the same. Thank you my writing friends.

The mistake with the broom that caused the icy boot and broom prints are like the mistakes I make in writing (probably several in this post). Okay, I don’t really hate the shovel just rather dislike it. Sweeping sounds easier (and is) than shoveling, but in this instance, I should have gone with my first instinct.  I needed to shovel not sweep the snow. I need to shovel words onto my blog, not sweep them away with excuses that are pretty pitiful. I need to stop worrying over not writing and write what I feel and believe. And believe me, it’s easier to shovel snow than it is to write. 

I need to click those keys, hone those Word Press skills, and let the words flow.

So I came in from the cold and headed for my laptop. That writer’s drought was about to end.

Featured

Blackberry Karma

Blackberries in pail—Photo by Valeria Terekhina on Unsplash

My mother Helen loved blackberry jam with seeds—purplish-black, succulent berries perfectly preserved. Before she could make her first batch one summer in the early 70’s, she fell ill. She summoned me to her bedside and made me, who had never preserved, canned, or jammed anything, promise to save her blackberries.

Mother the summer of the blackberries with her pal Mancos.

So I reluctantly agreed. I followed her recipe meticulously but had trouble deciding when the “almost” jam had thickened to “real” jam. I let it cook and cook and—blackberry concrete. For years my mother laughed as she told friends how I ruined her prized blackberries. “You could stick a spoon in the jar, turn it upside down, and neither jam nor spoon would budge.”

That fateful day in August haunts me to this day. Since the pandemic and its repercussions, I am acutely aware of food insecurity and how wasteful I was with my mother’s blackberries. Whether driven by a need for independence during shortages, a way to feed hungry neighbors, or better-tasting food, preserving your own food is once again popular.

Commercially preserved foods now overwhelm us with unimaginable choices. But a pantry filled with your own canned foods comforts us. These delicacies taste better than store-bought and are more easily accessible—just in case natural disasters, economic downturns, or even wars surprise us.

Humans have preserved produce or “put things up” as we Southerners say, literally forever. Maybe I should try again? 

Even though I too share my mother’s love for blackberry jam with seeds (which by the way is almost impossible to find in stores), recently I have developed a new fruit passion. Figs, that tear-shaped fruit that tempts me every August, send me off on treasure hunts through farmers’ markets and Amish stores.

Tired of hearing me complain about a dearth of “good homemade” fig preserves, my dear friend Kim surprised me this year with pints of fig preserves and strawberry-fig jam. She made them, especially for me and one other friend who shares my fig addiction. These delicacies, made from figs ripened on trees her mother had planted years ago, reminded me of my blackberry jam fiasco. Unlike me, she successfully follows her mother Julia Sutton’s recipes and makes these prized homemade delights.

Kim Wrenn’s Fig Preserves
Recipes are from Kim’s mother, Julia Sutton

Every year my mother and grandmother pickled cucumbers and okra, canned tomatoes, preserved pears, and made jams—techniques foreign to me. This summer I plan to follow in their footsteps and at least erase that bad blackberry jam karma. Kim has shared her mother’s “foolproof” recipes with me (see below) and promises to help me make the fig preserves and jam I love so much.

This summer I’ll let you know if they are “Phyllis” proof or if I have another batch of fruit concrete. Fingers crossed! 

Question for readers:  Besides freezing, canning, curing, fermenting, have you pickled, Pasteurized (thank you Louis Pasteur), flash frozen (thanks Clarence Birdseye), vacuum packed, freeze-dried, buried, root cellared your food? 

The Afghanis preserve grapes for six months by sealing them in clay pots called kanginas. Do you have other methods that you have tried or know about?

Helping others with recipes: If you are interested in helping end food insecurity or just in delicious recipes from around the world, visit The Common Ingredient….. is Love–thecommoningredient.com. This recipe-sharing website advocates for non-profits, churches, and food banks that feed the hungry. While website visitors search for down-home as well as gourmet recipes or submit their favorite recipes, they also discover ways to help end hunger.

Recipes

Strawberry-Fig Jam 

Julia Sutton’s recipe as told to her daughter Kim Wrenn

3 cups mashed full ripe figs

2 packages (3 oz) Strawberry Jello®

3 cups sugar

Pinch of salt

Mix all together and cook for 15 to 18 minutes

For scalded jars

Wash and rinse jars thoroughly either by hand or in the dishwasher. Sterilize jars by pouring boiling water in them. Put on a pan (such as a big cookie sheet) in 200 degree oven to let them dry out. Let them stay in there until you fill the jars with hot jam. (Hot jam in the hot jar helps seal the jar. No water bath needed.)

Remove one jar at a time from oven and add strawberry mixture to jar while the jar is warm. Leave about 1 inch from top of jar.

Fill sink or pan with boiling water. Dip jar tops and flats in boiling water. Dry with paper towel and put them on jar. Seal with ring. Before sealing be sure to wipe top of jar with really hot cloth to clean off jam that might have dropped on jar top when filling. Sticky jam on the jar will prevent sealing.

Wipe sealed jars with dishcloth and place jars aside. Don’t slide the jar around. Just leave them on countertop undisturbed. You will hear the “pop” when they seal.

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Fig Preserves

Julia Sutton’s recipe as told to her daughter Kim Wrenn

Wash and cut stems from 4 cups of figs. (Don’t use overripe figs.) Put in pot.

Add 3 cups of sugar and let the mixture sit a little while, about 30 minutes.

Put on stove and real slowly let the sugar melt. (Use low heat—not lowest setting)

Take a spoonful of juice and put in a saucer to see if it is thick enough. You want syrupy—not runny, but not too thick.

For scalded jars

Wash and rinse jars thoroughly either by hand or in the dishwasher. Sterilize jars by pouring boiling water in them and then draining. Put jars on a pan (such as a big cookie sheet) in 200 degree oven to let them dry out. Let them stay in there until you fill the jars with hot jam. (Hot jam in the hot jar helps seal the jar. No water bath needed.)

Remove one jar at a time from oven and add fig preserves to jar while the jar is warm. Leave about 1 inch from top of jar.

Fill sink or pan with boiling water. Dip jar tops and flats in boiling water. Dry with paper towel and put them on jar. Seal with ring. Before sealing, be sure to wipe top of jar with really hot cloth to clean off jam that might have dropped on the jar when filling. Sticky jam on the jar will prevent sealing.

Wipe sealed jars with dish cloth and place jars aside. Don’t slide the jar around. Just leave them on countertop undisturbed. You will hear the “pop” when they seal.