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Ramona's Ramblings

50 shades of purple

Ramona Jan
Posted 10/19/21

Inside my grandmother’s cupboard among sacks of flour, cans of condensed milk and oyster crackers lived a small cardboard box with an organically inspired, red-lettered label that read, …

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Ramona's Ramblings

50 shades of purple


Inside my grandmother’s cupboard among sacks of flour, cans of condensed milk and oyster crackers lived a small cardboard box with an organically inspired, red-lettered label that read, Pomona’s Universal Pectin. When I see it at the grocery today, my first reaction is always, “When did I start making pectin?” My second take, “Oh, it says Pamona, not Ramona.” And my most recent thought, “Is Pomona even a name?”

A quick internet search reveals that, indeed, Pomona is a female name from ancient Rome meaning goddess of fruitful abundance, something I was actually experiencing in my own garden this season. After years of being greeted by expectant blossoming vines that never produced a single grape, bunches of green ones suddenly appeared overnight, voluptuously dangling and mocking as if to say, may your biscuit always fall into your tea. I tried one and it was sour, like poison. And then, the grapes turned purple and although still bitter, one small taste infected me with the pioneering spirit.

On a muddy day, I trudged out to the fields to harvest the plum-colored marvels, the picking of which seemed to take forever. I kept telling myself that all this frontier stretching was good, a kind of yoga, but it only led to a sudden preference for cleaning floors, folding laundry and scrubbing toilets. Like a good colonial woman, however, I preserved, I mean persevered. I spent the rest of the day washing, plucking, crushing and then boiling a good bushel full of wild crimson grapes.

At last, I had less than 4 cups of very sour juice. I should have stopped right there. Instead, I got into my Subaru buggy and drove fifty miles round trip for a package of $4.99 Pomona’s Universal Pectin. Inside the box were two small bags of powdered ingredients that promised to turn juice to jam. My first move; crumple the instructions and toss them under the kitchen table.

By feel, I added some pectin to the grape juice but the petulant powder refused to dissolve. In fact, it clumped and no matter how much I pressed each blob against the side of the pot, the stuff just wouldn’t diffuse. I could only conclude that this pectin had been on the shelf since my grandmother’s time.

And then it occurred to me that perhaps there was something in the instructions that might help. Crawling on hands and knees, I retrieved the ball of directions and once flattened on the table top saw something called ‘calcium water’—an ingredient that was supposed to be made in advance. It’s never too late, right? I whipped it up and quickly added it to the soup, but it did nothing. I would have to settle for lumpy jam and a new look; ‘50 shades of purple’ as everything including the cheesecloth, my favorite linen dishtowel, the wooden spoon, my apron, the sleeves of my shirt, was now some form of reddish-blue.

It was time to pour the jam into those cute little cut-glass jelly jars that I forgot to buy. One leftover peanut butter jar would have to do. Referring once again to the now violet-stained recipe, I discovered that all jars must be pre-sterilized using a prolonged boiling method. Well, the jam and I hadn’t time for that ridiculous idea. No one ever died of grape jelly, or did they?

Unperturbed, I poured the mixture into the jar humming, “You won’t do anything foolish now, will you?” Of course, I was talking to the confection. That’s when my husband walked in. “What’s this? He asked “Did you just make jam?” He was so happy. I couldn’t disappoint him. “Yes,” I replied with my best puritan smile. “It’s your favorite, grape!” “Fantastic!” he said. And then I watched with wonder as he loaded some onto a spoon and slowly lifted it to his lips.


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