Saturday, 7 April 2018

Chasing down Rabbits

Well, the rabbits have been busy blazing new trails in my head this week.

Does that happen to you, too? You’re sitting there minding your own business, and then, suddenly, the puffy tail of one of those little creatures peeks out from an opening between your brain cells and runs off.  You could ignore this invitation to follow the rabbit and see where it leads you, but what’s the fun in that? So you are off on another mind adventure, like a terrier chasing a delicious scent. You might get lost, unable to find your way home again for a while, but the chase – well the chase is worth it.

The rabbit first appeared as I was sitting at the breakfast table all alone, a book open in front of me. Absent-mindedly I took a bite of toast, and wow! Fireworks! Yellow splashes of sunshine! I sat up straight and regarded my jammy toast. Of course – kumquat marmalade – the taste of it brought memories of Phoenix, and warmth, and experimentation with sugar, kumquats and canning jars. That’s all it took.  The rabbit called Marmalade was off and running.

Marmalade: what a lovely word. The mmmmms and the llllls roll off your tongue with a little help from the rrrrrrs. I’d never made marmalade before, but I’m sure I’ll do it again, if I ever see kumquats on the grocery store shelves.

Kumquats – there’s another – but no, that’s another rabbit, another trail. Stick to marmalade..

 Which reminded me: I’m going to visit my sister and brother-in-law next week, and Don once posted a picture of a British pub lunch that featured onion marmalade; he wondered plaintively why nobody ever made onion jam anymore. When I looked up the recipe, I was daunted by the pounds of onions and hours of simmering it would take, and nixed it. But wouldn’t it make a nice gift to bring to him? Yes, I do have other things to do, but this trail smells good. I think I’ll do it, but don’t tell him. He doesn’t read my blog, so it will be a surprise.

Do other people make marmalade? Do they still do canning and preserving? It’s so easy to just pick up a few jars of jam or pickles or chutney at the grocery store – why go to the time and trouble of creating all those jars of stuff? But it’s something I enjoy. Sometimes I get the urge, and can away to my heart’s content. The kitchen smells oh so yummy when that happens. Right now I have applesauce, tomato sauce, tomato jam, relish, 2 kinds of chutney, pears and more sitting on my shelves. Why? Maybe because the flavours that tickle your taste buds are ones you yourself added to the pure goodness of the fruits and vegetables, and maybe, like my marmalade, the tastes burst out in your mouth like nothing else, bringing back memories of their original state. Maybe. Or maybe I'm just crazy. Maybe. It’s another trail to explore another time.

Not yet, though, because the words canning and preserving give me another rabbit to chase. A week or so ago, my quilting friend Lorraine wrote about the Jesuit Pear – a heritage pear brought from France by the first Jesuit missionaries to the area where she grew up in SW Ontario. Some of those pears still survive hundreds of years later. You can read her blog and look at the wonderful art she has created based on these pears.  (Yes, you'll be running down a new rabbit trail, but it's worth it. I'll still be here when you come back.)

Lorraine's blog made me think of my mother’s “stoofpeertjes” (pronounced stofe pairtches). The name means “little stew pears,” – these pears were apparently popular in Holland but little known in Canada. Hard as golf balls, you had to simmer them for hours in a light syrup of sugar and water until they softened and turned a rosy pink. You could gussy them up with cinnamon sticks and wine, but plain and simple is how we had them. They appeared as a side dish at special meals, and they were highly prized. Back then, in the 50s and 60s, a woman in the church had a stoof peertje tree in her yard. When the fruits were ready in late September, the call went out to come and get them. Mom came home with paper bags full of pears and set to work to stew and bottle them. The memory of those peertjes makes my mouth water, and I am off on another trail, to see if I can track down my own source of stoof peertjes. I poked around on the internet – lots of trails to follow there – and found out that this type of pear is called the Giezer Willemand, but only nurseries in Holland and the UK carry it. So that’s a dead end trail, but perhaps one of my 14 wonderful readers, some of whom grew up eating those pears, will have some clues that I can follow up on. And I’ll be off and running again.

Well, slowly but surely, the rabbits trails are petering out. Oh, that’s a good one: petering out/Peter Rabbit – get it? Yes, another little trail...and where that one leads could be fun, but I do find myself heading back home again, tired but happy after a good run, to give my brain some rest.

Until the next time another little critter pokes its nose out of the space between my brains cells.

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