In with the old

I spent some time with my grandmother tonight.

Many of my memories of Grandma Young revolve around food. The chicken soup with dumplings she would serve every visit; the stöllen she made us every Christmas; and the tomato jam that always filled at least a couple packages under the Christmas tree. There was always a jar of that jam half-finished in our fridge – we loved the stuff. I thought it was so beautiful, chunks of brightly colored, slightly translucent tomato floating, jewel-like, in the clear spiced jam.

I wrote her a few years back for the recipe and she sent it to me, card and all. It sits tucked into the “desserts” section of my recipe box now, a little yellowed scrap of lined paper in her handwriting with a typewritten note that says “I’m not cooking any more, so I think this would be best with you.”

My jam looks different than hers – I admit to tweaking the processing technique a bit – but it smelled the same, and oh, the power of that fragrance. It reminded me of all those gifts of jam, year after year, and how much I associate that particular smell with her. And while I rarely have patience for anything romantic or sentimental, my eyes teared up while I was cooking. They’re tearing up now.

My Grandma was an amazing person. She survived the utter terror of Kristallnacht and the Holocaust as a young girl. She came over to this continent to start an entirely new life from nothing with nothing, in a place where she didn’t even speak the language, at an age at which I was barely leaving my nest. Her parents could send her with no parting gift, no aid to help her on her way but the chance of survival itself. Nearly every single relative she had died in the Holocaust. She was a quiet person – she had so many memories, so many stories, that are now all lost.

I have so much I could share with you, but all I will say is this: I miss you, Grandma. I’m glad there’s still some way for you to be present with me.

Grandma Young’s Tomato Jam

  • 2 1/2 lbs tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest (I used two lemons)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice  (1 1/2 lemons)
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar, premeasured in its own bowl – don’t try less or the jam won’t set
  • 1 packet surejell
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking spices (or about 1/2 tsp allspice, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cloves)

Prepare your canning jars and water bath. In a medium pot, simmer tomatoes, lemon zest, juice, salt and butter over medium-high heat and mash with a potato masher occassionally. Bring to a boil. Add the packet of surejell powder and bring up to a rolling boil. Add sugar all at once and stir constantly until the mix returns to a high rolling boil that you can’t stir down. Set the timer for 1 minute, then remove the pot from the stove and ladle into your hot jars. Secure bands and lids and process in a water bath canner for 20 minutes.

3 Responses to “In with the old”

  1. debbie swickard Says:

    You should write a book. Grandma’s stories are only lost if you let them be lost. She told them to you; now you tell them to us. Sounds logical to me.

  2. Heidi Says:

    What a wonderful story of Grandma. I hope the rest of the family reads it. It brought tears to my eyes.
    I second Debbie’s suggestion: even if only for our private consumption. Think of it as a gift for future generations…Sofia and her cousins will wonder where they came from and you have the gift of talented writing to tell them some family stories.
    (Now have I really stressed you out?)

  3. diana Says:

    I agree with both of you about telling the stories, but the problem is that my memory is so very bad, and Grandma was such a reticent person, that while I can remember a few of the larger scope narratives, I don’t have any kind of grasp on the details, on how her life was actually lived. I think you sisters should get together and write that book; you have a much better grasp of who the characters actually were. I remember when she spent a summer narrating her story to me over the typewriter… those pages must have been saved in dada’s file box, right? I’d love to read them again.

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