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Summer just wasn't the summer with apricots to can, but an unlikely source came to her rescue.
I pushed aside the cans of mushrooms and olives in the pantry and peered into the back of the top shelf.
That's where I kept my precious jars of homemade apricot jam so they couldn't get broken. Does anything taste better than a generous spoonful of the sweet and tangy homemade preserves slathered on whole wheat toast for breakfast? I don't think so!
But after a search on the top shelf I discovered there was no more jam. I was crestfallen. It was all gone, and there were three long weeks until the apricots came off the trees. Three weeks before I could make up a new batch–if I was able to get my hands on any apricots at all, that is.
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I love living on a farm in eastern Montana, but it's practically the edge of civilization when it comes to buying fresh fruit.
Every summer I dream of discovering a whole stack of ripe, luscious apricots in our little grocery store in Circle, but too often they go to the bigger towns out on the interstate, and we get the dregs. And to make good preserves, you need good fruit.
That night while washing dishes, I remembered my sisters and I helping our mom make jam. I thought of Mom in her apron, setting the big aluminum skillet on the stove and measuring in cups of mashed apricots. She added the sugar slowly, stirring the mixture until it started to bubble.
With infinite patience, she would pick up a bit and let it drip off the edge of the spoon, looking for a slow, thick drop to plop back into the pan. "That's how you know it's thick enough," she'd say with authority, "and ready for canning."
Carefully–those Mason jars were really hot–we girls would get to screw the lids on.
Those memories made me miss my sisters, all out of state now except Mary Ann, who lived a good 150 miles away.
When we lived closer, there was a time when she and I cooked a lot together–all kinds of fruit pies for a local restaurant, holiday dinners, delicate chicken crepes. And of course, we put up plenty of jam.
It got so we could almost read each other's mind. We were completely in sync in the kitchen. How I wished I could see her and complain about not having any apricot jam. She'd understand.
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The minute apricot season arrived, I started searching. When my husband, Milton, needed to get machinery parts in another town, I was just like our cow dog, Tuffy, leaping into the pickup so I wouldn't be left behind, hoping I could find some beautiful plump apricots.
One year Milton had gotten away without me. I pouted around the house until he came home–carrying in four flats of the most gorgeous apricots I'd ever seen. Didn't need to ask me to make him a pie–his favorite–and I'd have plenty left over for jam.
But this year I wasn't going to be so lucky. Every quest ended fruitlessly. No apricots in Circle. None in Glasgow. Even Miles City was bare.
Sometimes I wished that I lived out in Washington state near my brother-in-law's orchard. There were acres of trees spread out in the Yakima Valley. Acres of "cots," as they called them. But shipping them to us in Montana was just too expensive. I couldn't ask them to do that.
Finally I turned to prayer. God, you know I'm out of jam. And I can't find any apricots. Do I have to wait another year for a jar? I immediately felt ashamed for bothering him with such a trivial request. Surely God had bigger things to do than give me a jar of apricot jam.