Canned Traditions

Most families have traditions, mine come in cans. Jars of sweet homemade fruit jam that my nana has made for decades.

Almost every May we find strawberries on the road up to St. Louis, usually at a farm stand in Illinois, and bring them to Nana’s. The mason jars clang in the trunk of the minivan and we strategize how we are going to cook homemade strawberry jam with my 90-year-old grandma in her kitchen that hasn’t been updated since 1962

The process begins early in the morning when Nana will start washing away the dirt and cutting the impurities from each berry. The rest of us drink coffee and then throw on an apron from her bin of hand-sewn ones.

The beauty of this entire process is that it will be done without any screens or search engines, entirely by memory, and instructions from the Sure Jell packet when that fails.

We mash, measure and mix, add a ton of sugar then heat it all up. After we ladle the jam into jars, Poppy, the tester, walks in and sticks his spoon in the empty pot like he has done for 64 years.

After it is all over we sit around the table and listen for the pops, a sound that signals success. The stories begin to flow out of my grandparents. They talk of the depression, the war, and life back then.

We then think of the future, maybe we will make grape jam, a much more complex procedure, in August. Maybe we can get on the roof and pick cherries and put them into a pie. In October, maybe we might convince the cousin to pull out the huge family pot and then spend an entire weekend turning apples into butter.

At Christmastime, we will sit in the same kitchen passing around a handwritten plum pudding recipe that has been passed down for generations. After the advent candles burn down we will spoon pudding with hard sauce into our mouths and many stories will be repeated.

My family is not perfect, we do not go through this routine every year. Sometimes we only make strawberry jam and another year we might make grape. Or we may only tackle plum pudding at Christmas. Perhaps if we cooked together more often it would not be as special and I would not see the beauty in it.

My family traditions have a taste, the passing of time is felt on the tongue. I may forget specifics of each season but I will remember what I ate. Traditional foods are more than just nutrition, they are moments that we have made last for generations.

What are your traditions? What form do they come in?

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