Sharing a traditional family recipe was a sweet way to forge bonds with her new extended family.
Posted in , Apr 27, 2020
Ever since my son Mark’s wedding, I wondered where I fit into his new life. His bride, Aarika, and I were fond of each other, but we were family now. I wanted to bring something special into her life, something only I could bring. I just couldn’t imagine what. Aarika was an only child, with loving parents she adored. What could I possibly have to offer this young woman who’d grown up with so many opportunities?
As a mother of six, my greatest talent was juggling: I juggled carpools, laundry, homework, school events. I always just managed to stay on top of the calendar and within our budget. I mended the kids’ clothes, baked our own bread and made jam out of any fruit in season. I was proud of my homemaking skills and our scrappy do-it-yourself family. But I couldn’t see how any of that might benefit two young newlyweds with only themselves to worry about.
“You know she appreciates you,” my husband, John, said as we drove to see them, our car packed with peaches, pectin, jars and a steam canner.
“Being appreciated isn’t the same as being needed.” I wasn’t sure John really understood what I wanted, but I knew God did. I prayed to him to show me what to do.
Now Aarika had asked me to teach her how to make jam. I knew she could have googled instructions herself, watched a video on YouTube or taken a local class. But she wanted me to teach her in person. Maybe it was a start.
Mark and Aarika’s kitchen was a little small, so we decided we’d all meet at her mother’s to make the jam.
“Lesson one,” I announced while we carried in five boxes of peaches.
“Never pass up fresh produce.” I laid out the jars and ingredients. “Everybody, apron up!” I called. To my delight, Aarika had brought along an apron that I had made for her myself.
Step-by-step, I demonstrated what to do. We divided up the peaches for peeling. “Do you make all kinds of jam?” her mother, Maggie, asked.
“Oh, yes,” I said. “Blackberry jam from the wild vines, strawberry jam from the U-Pick strawberry field and plum jam from the trees in my parents’ yard. And these peach seconds are from my friend’s farm.” Five boxes of fresh fruit too bruised, misshapen or ripe for her to sell, but perfect for jam.
The doorbell rang. It was Aarika’s nana. “I want to learn too!” she said, tying on an apron and grabbing a peach to peel.
Apparently Mark had told everybody that our homemade jam was a favorite childhood memory. “Mark didn’t just eat the jam, though,” Aarika said. “He helped Marci make it.”
“The kids always helped pick the fruit,” I said. “I remember one day in the blackberry patch when Mark was little, I went over to see how he was doing. He looked up at me, his mouth stained purple, juice dripping down his chin. ‘I only found two,’ he said seriously. To prove it, he held up a bucket with a single pair of berries rolling around at the bottom.”
Three generations of laughter filled the kitchen.
We boiled the peaches and poured the mixture into jars. Then we placed the jars into the steamer, where they stayed for 20 minutes. When that was done, we used pot holders to carefully remove the hot jars and place them on waiting tea towels to cool. “In a little while you’ll hear a ping,” I said.
“That means the jam has cooled enough to vacuum seal the jar.”
“Marci makes homemade bread too,” Aarika said. “You’ve never tasted anything better. And they always had homemade sauces and vegetables from their garden.”
I nearly blushed from all the compliments. “It really saves money,” I said.
“I can’t wait to learn how to do all that,” Aarika said.
“Jam’s ready!” everyone shouted at once.
We assembled a peach cobbler with the leftover fruit and put it in the oven. It would be ready in time for dinner. The four of us cleaned up together. Then we lined up the cooled jam jars on the counter, one by one. Sharing stories, passing on knowledge—we were preserving more than jam here.
I looked over at my daughter-in-law, who was so eager to learn the traditions that Mark loved. Her mother and nana didn’t want to be left out of the fun. Maybe I wasn’t the only one searching for a comfortable place in our new extended family. God had found the sweetest way to show me that our place was being all together. It was a recipe anyone could follow.
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