At six years old, it was simply a given that my parents knew everything there was to know. One early spring, they moved our family to a new town. Our new home was old, with a large yard and a variety of delightful growing things that were new to us. We tasted Concord grapes, inhaled the fragrance of large irises, wisteria and jasmine. But best of all, way out near the backyard fence we discovered a couple of large, mature fruit trees.
While I won’t claim to be hyperosmic (a super-smeller), my most potent memory of that place is associated with the fragrances of unfamiliar fruit and flowers. We were cool-weather northwest transplants who’d never lived in a climate like this zone 9. That summer I experienced the natural world in a way I never had in the past. My fondest memory is the plethora of pale pink, vaguely fragrant blossoms that appeared that year on our apricot tree. Even the word “apricot” was new to us.
In late summer, the apricot tree began to yield a bumper crop of the oddly shaped, fuzzy orange fruit. My parents were loath to see anything go to waste, so we gathered the fruits every day until the tree was finished for the season.
Jam or Bust
With a large canning kettle that seemed to appear from nowhere, my mother set out to make apricot jam. She enlisted my dad’s help, and we watched as they worked diligently to blanch and pit hundreds of ripe apricots, filling the kitchen with fruity steam. Watching them work together may have cemented my love of canning for many years to come.
Finally, the hot jars were all set on a counter, the lids popping and my parents beaming. This joint project was part of their new beginning in a new state, a new house, and a new start.
Opening that first jar was a family event, all of us eager to taste what we now recognized as that sweet, slightly tart new fruit.
In my mind, I can still see my mother’s disappointed face when she realized the jam didn’t turn out to be jam. It was, instead, a lovely translucent orange liquid. Her momentary sense of shame was palpable, and my dad wasn’t too happy, either. When she recovered from the indignity, mom proclaimed the final product to be not jam, but apricot syrup. Sort of like an “I meant to do that” moment.
So, for many months, we ate pancakes and waffles with apricot syrup, delighted to go along with the new version of jam. The pint jars, lined up on a shelf in the garage, came to represent a happy mistake, a new discovery and a most delicious treat.
Lessons to be Learned
At a tender age I experienced the loveliness of that fascinating tree, from blossom to end result. Apricots are still some of my favorite fruits. I’ve never found a product at any grocer or farmer’s market that compares to the flavor, scent and color of that beautiful apricot nectar syrup.
I can still remember my sense of wonder and possibility that summer. I learned about the exquisite cycles of nature and how to turn a failure around. I also realized that no one is perfect, parents make mistakes, and sometimes mistakes make for happy lifetime memories.
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