Monthly Archives: July 2015

A Fig Moment

The season of harvest for our fig trees is about two weeks. This year was no exception. I canned my last batch of fig jam Tuesday and dated the labels 7/21/15. The jars show off the beautiful red figs, color enhanced by lemon juice. I look forward to giving them away at Christmas. But I look back with great joy on that first day of harvesting with my three grandchildren from Birmingham. It was their first time to help pick the figs.

When we approached our trees I saw the bees had beaten us to them. My heart fell. These children (William is eleven, Thomas is eight, and Mattie is six) would not want to get anywhere near the bees. But after I cautioned them to let the bees have any figs they wanted, they went right to work. Thomas went up a tree like a monkey to retrieve high fruit. William studiously picked figs that matched my instructions of what was ripe but not too ripe. And Mattie gleefully called out every time she picked one of the plump, warm, sticky figs.

They tried out the taste. “How do I peel it?” “Oh, just eat it–like an apple, peeling and all!” I didn’t get any “Ughs” but there were no rave comments either.

Someone discovered the next tree with the base of an old lawn recliner beside it. The chair made picking easier. Katydids commenced their rising and falling chorus in the pine trees. The morning sun blazed hotter. And the gnats began teasing around our eyes. Our bag felt weighty and abundant. I told the troops I thought we had enough figs for a batch of jam and they were off eagerly to see the goats.

Fig trees can make wonderful climbing trees. There was a time when our young son William (now father of these three) spent a great deal of his summer in the fig tree we had at that time. It was a fantastic tree with nice thick sloping limbs. The foliage was so thick he could hide up in the tree and survey the world through leafy peepholes. Seems to me he used a bucket and some string to pull valuables, such as peanut butter sandwiches, up to his perch. Fig leaves are so interesting with their harp-like shape, and they’re so generous in size, one can really imagine Adam and Eve covering themselves with them, although I’m quite sure they would be itchy.

We start watching tiny nubs of green figs develop in late April. Some years, like this one, we think we will have a huge crop, there are so many little baby nubs nestled amongst the leaves. But of course the birds–and the bees–have to take their part. One year our oldest granddaughter Amanda, about four then, having heard us talking day after day about when the figs would get ripe, asked this question. When, she wanted to know, would there be hogs on the tree.

Back at our house across town, we took time for a refreshing drink before starting the fig jam process. Then Mattie washed jars, William manned the blender, and I rinsed gently the very tender fruit. Thomas and William measured the sugar and there wasn’t much on the floor! Soon the jam pot was heating up. It is so much fun to place seals on jars and listen to them pop tight. But it was more fun this time doing it with my Birmingham Bunch!

Picking figs is a joyful thing. Especially with children’s voices circling the tree–exulting, arguing, bragging, complaining, and exclaiming. But as I write this I’m reminded of Habakkuk’s writing about having joy even when the fig crop failed. Think about these words: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stall, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Habakkuk 3:17-18

A Recipe for Fig Jam

5 c. prepared figs                     1/2 c. lemon juice                              1/2 c. water

1 box Sure Jell                         1/2 tsp. butter                                    7 c. sugar

Gently rinse approximately three quarts of figs. These should be rosy with only little touches of green. They should be firm enough to handle without falling apart, but not hard. (Unripe fruit will float to the top of your jam.) It’s alright if some figs have a split in the bottom as long as they haven’t been attacked by creatures!

Measure sugar into a bowl and set aside. Wash jars in preparation and gather together tongs, a ladle, a long stirring spoon, a small bowl for holding foam skimmed off the top, soft towel and clean dishrag for handling hot jars and wiping rims of the jars. To heat jars, I put them on a cookie sheet and place in oven at 212. They’re ready when I need them. Lids and rings I place in a small pot of water and heat at back of stove.

Grind or mash by hand a few figs at a time to make five prepared cups of smoothie-looking slush. Immediately add lemon juice to retain color. Place in heavy six to eight quart pot. Add 1 box Sure Jell and stir over medium heat until dissolved. Add water and butter to all. The butter will help keep your jam from foaming as much as it might. Bring this mixture to full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add sugar all at once and stir constantly.

When jam reaches a full boil and you cannot stir the bubbles down, cook for one full minute stirring constantly. Stirring constantly is a key to making jam!

Remove from heat. Skim foam off into your small bowl. Ladle beautiful red jam into hot jars and seal as directed. A milk jug top cut about four inches from mouth and turned upside down in your jar makes a very nice wide funnel.

This recipe makes ten half pints of jam.

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Day Trip

It wasn’t planned as a pleasure trip. It was a medical trip. We were seeking help for Charles’ gnarly hands–scars, crooked fingers, etc. from various episodes as a veterinarian and an avid yard worker. He said he didn’t have to have me along but he’d like me to go. How wonderful to be wanted! Maybe it wasn’t planned as a pleasure trip but that’s what we made it.

Charles’ appointment was at 9:00 in Macon so we were up and pulling out of the yard at 5:30. It was still dark when we said goodby to the cats Cramer and Sassy who must have wondered why breakfast was so early. Charles drove to Camilla where we stopped for breakfast at McDonald’s, the only place open. It’s always a pleasure to find friendly folks behind the counter so early in the morning. And breakfast after twenty-five miles of travel is so delicious!

Charles loves to read the paper while riding, catch up on the news and editorials and read the comics to me with all his special sound effects and vivid descriptions. I laugh much harder when he reads them to me than when I read them myself! And I have motion-sickness tendencies so do not read while riding. So I took the driver’s seat in Camilla. Up the road toward Albany, in between his editorial comments, I exclaimed over the sunrise and then turned jubilant when the sun, a perfect red disk, rose above the treetops to our right. I don’t know why I don’t get up in time to see the sunrise more often, it is such a thrill. But of course you can see it much better on that road from Camilla to Albany, such a wonderful view of the sky all the way. After the sun came up, Charles put his seat back and went to sleep. I found myself with Fox news, the road, and God’s beautiful morning work.

In between hearing about a horrible plane crash in Indonesia and alarming details of the New York prisoner nabbing, I saw a beautiful doe just standing beside the road looking alertly about as if surprised to find such activity. I hope she went safely back into the woods and very quickly!

In Macon at Ortho Georgia our visit was pleasant and painless, at least for me! Charles did have a shot of steroids in one finger, hopefully to relieve scar tissue and let it straighten out. Our doctor was very young, looked like a baby to us! But he seemed to know what he was doing and gave Charles advice about each problem. Charles, as usual in situations such as that, enjoyed teasing and encouraging him. He insisted the shot didn’t hurt and we headed back down the road.

In Cordele we lunched happily at Cracker Barrel, then purchased some old movies to enjoy at home, movies like “North and South” and “Black Beauty.” There was a Home Depot next door so we ambled over there and found some new cheerful chair cushions for our porch, adding wasp spray to our purchases so we’ll be prepared for those intruders. Back in the car, we set the radio on Willie’s Roadhouse and sang along with some of our favorite old songs like “If I Had to Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It With You.”

It was while we were stopped at Striplings purchasing smoked sausage for our 4th of July Low Country Boil that the storms began. It had been such a beautiful afternoon until then. The clouds were soft and piled in unbelievable mountains of snowy light in the big sky. But then those soft clouds disappeared and in their place were hovering black clouds with lightning shredding them to the tune of kettle drums.

I had intended to drive from Striplings and let Charles have a good well-deserved nap. But when the sky opened and began dumping water in blinding bands he had mercy on me, knowing how badly I hate to drive in heavy rain. (Probably he was interested in preserving our safety!) He said he was awake enough after browsing around in Striplings. We waited for a break in the storm and then ran for the car. The break didn’t last long. By the time we were five miles down the road the rain was so heavy we put on our emergency blinker until Charles found an old road he could pull into. We put back our seats and slept like babies. The storm raged around us like wolves trying to break into a mountain cabin.

We drove fifty miles or so stopping at intervals when the bands of rain were so heavy they were like barrels of water splashed in our faces by a giant hand. It was a remarkable display of God’s power right before our eyes, the sky split by fierce streaks of lightning, thunder that rattled our teeth, and the pouring, sluicing rain. It finally let up south of Albany and our trip home was safe, broken by a stop at our Camilla veterinary office to see the folks there.

Home looked so good to us! The cats arched their backs from afternoon naps and swished tails around our legs. We put new cushions in our porch chairs and sat watching the rain come in from the south. From sunrise, to God’s healing through a young physician, to storms on the highway, we met God at every turn on our day trip. Though it was a necessary health trip, we made it into a pleasure trip, one to remember!

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