Memories of Summer in Missouri

As an anniversary present Nancy and Ken gave us a dwarf peach tree–one that has several small peaches on it. We still haven’t decided where to plant it, but we guard it carefully, watering it thoroughly and protecting it from insects and varmints. Tending this tree has jogged my memory and has lured up pleasant childhood summer-time experiences.

Although we lived in town, a country mentality pervaded our home; at least as far as putting up fruit for the winter was concerned. Every summer, the day came when Mama felt a certain urge, and she forthwith rounded up her children and herded us to the garage. The canning jars were stored there. The barren winter days had been warned by cobblers and pies of such delectable essence that the cold itself had been stripped away. Now, in summer, the fruit jars sat on the shelves, empty as old women. A new stock must be laid by.

We tugged a galvanized tub to the backyard, then by the armloads we carried the jars there too. The fruit jars were dirty, some of them quartering thin-legged spiders whose existence we completely altered that afternoon as we tore out their gauzy webs and dashed away their filmy illusions. Occasionally, a mouse flashed across the floor, musty and gray, and we squealed as become children of a summer afternoon.

Mama poured steaming water and soap in the tub, and we set to scrubbing, the suds mounding as we thrust in our arms up to the shoulders. Before we were finished, our clothes would be drenched, but they would dry quickly in the hot sun. When the jars were thoroughly clean, Mama brought clear water, rinsing the vessels scrupulously until every trace of soap was gone. There, they glistened now; virgin girls lined up awaiting new fruit.

Our favorite fruit was blackberries, and our entire family worked to harvest enough berries for the canning Mother would do. We had friends who lived in the country near the small town of Diggins, which was twenty or thirty miles from Springfield, and they let us go onto their property to gather as many wild berries as we wanted. Picking blackberries is a hot, rather miserable job, for the springy limbs are thorned, set to guard the luscious fruit. We ate as we went, dust and all, so that at the day’s end, our mouths and teeth were stained blue. Chiggers were the bane of the expedition, small itch-causing critters, almost invisible, with a ravenous appetite for warm summer blood sucked from hot children or from hot mamas and daddies. Redbugs, my Louisiana-born husband calls them, and that southern term is an accurate description, for if you can strain your eyes enough to see a chigger, indeed, it will be red. These days, mid-west and southern berry pickers slather on Avon Skin-So-Soft, or some other product with a high percentage of deet, so they may avoid the Lilliputian pests. We just clawed for days.

Taken from: Road Tales by Shirley Buxton
Check back tomorrow for a look into a midwestern kitchen during the canning season.

10 thoughts on “Memories of Summer in Missouri

  1. Yes, we have squirrels–the beautiful kind with big bushy tails, but they are rascals. We also have a pear tree that used to be loaded with pears. Now we’re lucky to have a dozen left on it. One of our friends saw a squirrel sitting on one of the limbs of the pear tree, his mouth bulging with a green pear. I really don’t know what to do. Jerry keeps threatening to get a pellet gun, but so far, I’ve talked him out of it.

    Love your story of the small black squirrel trying to escape your ire. :)Glad you got at least one peach.

    Blessings

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  2. While on the subject of varmints and peach trees, I hope you dont have squirrels where you live. I bought a 6 foot high peach tree last year, it was laden with wonderful ripe peaches but no sooner had I planted it than the squirrels came running from every conceivable direction. Imagine a small black squirrel with a full sized ripe peach in its mouth trying to escape along the top of a narrow wooden fence. One such critter actually fell and dropped the peach as well, its the only one that I managed to save.

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  3. Helen, you are a doll to make such a sweet suggestion.

    Carol, would you believe I have never actually canned anything myself. I’ve frozen fruit and have made freezer jam, but never cooked up a pot of jelly…unless you count when I helped my mom. We didn’t have a freezer, so she always canned lots of fruit and jelly.

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  4. Pingback: Windows Toward the World » Blog Archive » Summer in Missouri, Back in the Day

  5. Thank you Becky and Helen and Daniel. I’ll check out your poem, Helen. Daniel, the reason we’re not sure where to plant the tree is because we don’t have too much open space left. Our new plum tree can grow to 20 feet wide. I’ll let you know when we plant it.

    And yes, Jerry is improving every day.

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  6. Wonderfully written. You have stirred pleasant memories for me, too. My mom taught me how to can peaches, pears and other things. I always had to use Fruit Fresh, but she kept hers looking nice with a mixture, I believe, of salt and vinegar. I have a friend who freezes peaches, and I never understood why she like that better. I lived in town, but I have great memories of picking berries,too. And so do my children.

    Thanks so much for this.

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