Sunday, August 31, 2008
Hallie sent a message to tell us about their trip back to Seattle from the homestead: "We stopped down the grade, put our jeans on and trolled for some elderberries. Unfortunately, most were not yet ready. Nick was very disappointed. Our plan was to pick as many as we could and leave them at the town house for jam. I tried to console him and told him that one day mom would make him a very happy man with the gift of elderberry jam."
How strange, I thought, that Nick seems to be a connoisseur (this is when it so works to have spell check) of jams and jellies. Mike and I eat so little of it. Then I had to laugh at myself because what I know of jams and jellies I learned from my dad who truly would have matched Nick spoonful for spoonful. I can see the two of them judging the jams and jellies at fairs. Daddy had his favorites and elderberry was one of them. He would stop along Gilbert Grade on his way home from the farm and pick elderberries in season in order to make jelly. And when Mike had a taste of Daddy's elderberry jelly, he was also smitten. Some people say elderberry jelly is too much trouble when you can buy grape. Not Mike. He says he can tell the difference and there's no comparison. I can tell you one thing: grapes are edible to begin with while elderberries are not.
Mother, too, took pride in a batch of jelly well-made and sealed. We had a crabapple tree at the Orofino house. Mother loved that tree. It grew next to the house and was tall enough that she could see the beautiful blooms through the upstairs bathroom window in the spring. When the fruit was ready, she would make crabapple jelly, straining the juice well in the process. (She was more careful and precise in her cooking than my dad.) She would hold up a jar of the finished product and say, "Isn't that beautiful!" You could almost see through it. Sadly, the roots of the old crabapple tree invaded the sewer system and it had to be cut down – probably in the early '60s. Mother was inconsolable.
Friday morning I invited Mike and Nellie to hike with me around the field behind the house. We found at least six elderberry bushes / trees with plenty of berries – just not ripe. Mike thinks they may never be ripe. I think it's just too soon. According to a website I discovered, elderberries.com, the berries ripen late August / early September. Frankly, I think it can be later than that in this part of the country. I remember making elderberry jelly in October.
"There's a stand of elderberry trees on Miller Road," Mike said upon return from a bike ride. I didn't think much of that until I pedaled past the same stand the other day. Powdery, purplish, ripe elderberry clusters beckoned to me. I don't know who owns the property but the trees are on the "hill" side of the road in steep, rocky territory. Surely no one would care if we picked a few elderberries.
Yesterday afternoon (Saturday, August 30), armed with a 2.5 gallon bucket, Mike and I hopped on the little blue 4-wheeler and rode over to the elderberry stand. Wow! And what a stand it is! I nicknamed it "Elderberry Alley." Once you step down from the road, you see the elderberry trees going on and on. The deer trail through it makes access easy. Mike picked a few clusters and made like he was ready to leave. "Oh no!" I explained. We need the bucket full of elderberries in order to have enough juice to make jelly. We had to pick from many of the trees in order to find enough ripe, reachable berries.
We were just exiting Elderberry Alley when a voice from above said, "Hello Folks!" We explained our mission and he said, "And you aren't hurting a thing." He introduced himself as the manager of the hunting club. (John Richardson has leased most of his fields to a local hunting club.) He further explained that bow hunting season was opening that afternoon and he was there setting up some blinds. He asked if we were related to the Warnocks that live on the edge of the canyon – or if we were those Warnocks. We said we were those Warnocks. Great! Now the whole of Gilbert could know the Warnocks pilfer elderberries. We can't get away with anything!