I had just taken two loaves of cracked wheat bread from the oven when a package arrived. The sender was Bunni, my forever friend, my first neighbor and childhood playmate, and like me, a descendant of I.D. and Fannie Hertzler who first purchased the 1200-acre plot of land along the Warwick River where we grew up in the Denbigh Mennonite Colony.
When I tore open the packaging, damp fragrant rose petals spilled out onto the table.
There was also this jar of fresh-made Tangerine Marmalade.
Exquisite and perfect with a slice of that hot bread! But not what I was expecting….
This is what I was expecting– bright tangerines from her Florida trees, like the ones I got the year before, and the year before that. She knows what I love.
We are descended from orchard men and from women who spent the summer harvesting, canning and preserving each fruit as it came ripe, both wild and cultivated. Figs, elderberries, wild cherries, and ground cherries had their season with plums and raspberries. Summer suppers featured bowls of the fruit with bread and milk.
In years past there were my dad’s strawberries and the Concord grapes he got from the valley.
Our mothers picked up windfall apples and made applesauce and pie. We chased the birds away so there would be sour cherries for cherry cobbler. The Rohrers shared plump ripe peaches to slice over homemade ice cream.
It’s only natural that fruit makes such a connection between Bunni and me. Recently I picked one little stickery blackberry after the other from the Hertzler’s Quarterfield Farm fencerows and made sweet jam for her to take back to Florida.( Regrettably, the jar was confiscated at airport security!)
And I guess inter-state security gets credit for the fact that this year my tangerines had been transformed into marmalade. Florida now takes a dim view of people like Bunni shipping backyard fruit to Virginia.
But a jar of jam is much more to Bunni and me than family and community. It evokes the memory of one golden summer we spent as carefree girls adventuring through Europe on our own. The apricot tarts at a French market, the dark black cherries on a Swiss street, and above all, the morning jams we slathered on our croissants and baguettes built a bond that will last our whole lives through.
Here I am tucking in to a snack in one of our quaint hotel rooms.
It only takes one drip of tangerine marmalade or a quivering purple blob of plum jam, and I am back again on cobblestone streets wearing a dirndl and a fresh cotton apron . On my right is the boy I will marry. On my left is my forever friend.
That is a lot to ask of a mouthful of jam, but it works for me. Thank you, Bunni, for the package. It sent a cascade of beauty, fragrance, delicious taste, and enduring affection across my kitchen table and across the years.
Susan Yoder Ackerman is a writer and gardener in Newport News, Virginia. Both her writing and her gardening are enhanced by tending a century-old family farmhouse and eight grandchildren that come and go. You can email Susan at [email protected].