This Tuesday, Nov. 20th, would have been my Dad’s 98th birthday. It doesn’t always fall this close to Thanksgiving but it did the year my Mother’s passed away. That was an especially emotional Thanksgiving for all of us. My family celebrated the holiday with my Dad at my brother’s home in Kansas just days after my Mother’s funeral and my Dad’s 93rd birthday.
My Dad died two years later. Although he’s no longer here to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us, we still enjoy the fruits of gardening and cooking with the few remaining jars of canned food that he left us. It’s almost as if he’s still sharing a meal with us.
Canning the tomatoes, beets, green beans and cucumbers harvested from his garden brought him great pleasure. Often, a jar of tomatoes, green relish, piccalilli or, his favorite, stickles would wind up under the Christmas tree as a holiday gift from my Dad.
Sadly, I didn’t care for the stickles until recently when I snapped open a jar sitting on my pantry shelf. I taste tested a tiny bite to determine if the stickle was still safe to eat. To my surprise, I found it deliciously sweet, not at all what I had expected. For those of you unfamiliar with this down home delicacy, stickles are made from cucumbers with white vinegar, some drops of green food coloring, celery seed, sugar, some lime and salt. The cucumbers are cut lengthwise into strips and come out sweet and much different from traditional pickles. My Dad had tried hard to convince me that I would like them but as I’m not a big fan of cucumbers I never did.
Another favorite of his was pickalilli, a sort of relish made with tomatoes. I think I have only one jar of this remaining. I can remember my Dad saying “Um, that’s good!” when he’d eat a spoonful.
He also made sweet green tomato relish that he’d mix into the filling for the deviled eggs that he made to that Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s home. I’m taking deviled eggs as an appetizer to my friends’ Thanksgiving dinner this year. There’s a jar of that relish on my refrigerator shelf. I may add some to give the egg filling a little more zip.
Of all his canned creations that we still have, I love the ‘pear honey ‘ the best. I have only one jar left. It’s half empty now. I covet every single spoonful that I spread onto my warm toast, usually for Sunday morning brunch.
I have fond memories of my Dad associated with the pear jam. It springs from the day that we were driving back to his home after a visit to my brother in Kansas City. My Dad spotted an aged pear tree growing in a field alongside the highway. The tree obviously had not been pruned or tended for a long time. At my Dad’s request, I pulled over to the shoulder and parked. He slid out, taking a plastic grocery bag with him as he headed for the tree. “Um boy,” he exclaimed. “Look at all these good pears. These will make some good pear honey.” I could almost hear him smack his lips.
The few jars left on my shelf are each labeled with the contents in my Dad’s handwriting on a strip of masking tape. I think I’m not going to remove the label when the jar is finally empty because it will still be filled with memories .