Monday, July 30, 2007

Please pass the gooseberry marmalade

I’m concerned about the younger generations. I am at an age which did allow me to have Pop Tarts for breakfast and gummy worms for dessert, but I am old enough to remember eating mince-meat pie.

In the pioneer days, creativity was the secret to happy days at the homestead. Can you remember a photo prior to 1940 where someone was smiling? My old family members all had straight lips and glaring eyes in their photos. Perhaps they were assuming that little gadget called a “camera” was just a big hoax.

I shouldn’t talk. I wouldn’t want to see my face whenever I’m forced to learn something new about my computer. Or, perhaps they were glaring because someone forgot to put sugar in the gooseberry jam.

Most pioneers had little to work with. Flour, sugar, vegetables from the garden, and perhaps some meat, were the main resources available. If there were to be smiles at the dinner table, the cook had to be creative.

Mince-meat pie had to be invented during late winter. Meat, flour, sugar, and rum are the primary ingredients. Most are readily available in winter. Had it been summer, the family would probably have preferred an apple pie. I know I would prefer an apple pie.

Some springs, like this one for example, get cold enough to frost every fruit tree on the place. So far, my peach tree is toast, cherries aren’t going to happen, and most likely my apples are at half production at best. During a spring such as this, the pioneer cook had to use what was available.

I remember my grandmother preparing gooseberry pie. When coming to Grandma’s house for breakfast, gooseberry jam was an option. As someone in my mid-thirties, I have no desire to find the recipe for gooseberry anything. How many of these pioneer secrets have been lost? How many people miss their gooseberry jam?

While I was coaching high school basketball, I became frightfully aware of the eating habits of today’s youth. During a state tournament, I announced to the team that we could dine at whatever restaurant they chose one night. I assumed I would get at least one good dinner this way. What restaurant did they choose for their special night out? McDonalds.

If price was no object for high school basketball players and they chose cheap hamburgers, would a pioneer choose mince-meat pie on a buffet line with twelve other options? Or would they give you a straight lip glare as if having a photo taken?

What about horehound candy? I remember helping look for horehound plants to use for this candy. Today’s youth would surely turn up their noses at such a candy, but it was probably for special occasions only for yesterday’s youth. It was tedious and labor intensive to prepare.
In my youth, I used to watch in horror as my grandparents would put a full tablespoon of jam on half a cracker. That used to give me chills. Jam was considered a dessert for many generations. I doubt orange marmalade will be around by 2025. I doubt any marmalade will be around by 2025.

I won’t shed any tears if marmalade, bread pudding, horehound candy, gooseberry jam, and mince-meat pie don’t pass on to the younger generations, but I will miss what they represented. They represented people making the most of what they had, with hopes of bringing a smile to the ones they loved, when life was simpler.

Today’s world does not have creativity based on necessity. The electronic age urges you to shut your brain off and consume its entertainment value. Life’s complexities urge you to eat as quickly as possible with little or no effort in the food’s preparation. It is possible to ignore these urges.

However, one urge I can’t ignore is I now use well over half a tablespoon of jam on a cracker. I’m only 34!

Kevin Duling is a wheat farmer and freelance writer from Maupin, Ore. Kevin’s stories will be posted at the Capital Press blog every Friday. Comments are welcomed at

Copyright, July 2007

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