Sviata Vechera Jelly, by Ms. Graveyard Dirt
Feeling a little frayed around the edges - and satisfyingly chaffed in others! - I cleared some time for myself last night to begin working on a preserve that honoured the hanging gardens of my youth.
My immigrant grandparents created a miniature slice of the old country in southern Wisconsin, which meant a huge chunk of my barefooted childhood was spent exploiting acres of vegetable gardens, flower beds, grapevine arbours, fruiting bushes and a two acre orchard filled with apples, pears, plums and cherries. Preserving was a way of life, and even though I was never directly taught how to preserve, being peripherally around the art managed to have a huge impact on me.
Being able to help my grandparents bring in the Harvest was a big fucking deal, being able to watch my grandparents process pounds of homegrown fruits and vegetables to eat over the course of winter was a big fucking deal, being able to help my grandmother haul huge ass mason jars of summer fruit down to the basement was a big fucking deal, being able to casually pluck one of those jars off the shelf whenever I had a taste for canned fruit was a big fucking deal and being able to slurp the thick, sugar-laden syrup that covered the fruit like a melted slushie was a big fucking deal.
While I’ve never visited our ancestral homeland, there ain’t much that sums up Ukraine - or being Ukrainian - to me than the taste of homegrown fruit, especially plums and pears. Even though I no longer have access to my beloved hanging gardens (short version: my grandmother willed me the property, although my mother forced me to sell it ‘cause I was a kid), the memory lives on in my container garden and in the two backyard plum trees I now tend.
In the twenty odd years the plum trees have been around neither produced fruit until I began working with them, so, for various reasons, I’m fiercely protective of the trees and their fruit. Since last year I’ve been hoarding two frozen pints of juice made from homegrown plums, and I finally sacrificed one of them to pay homage to those two blessed acres in southern Wisconsin that shaped my relationship with the world.
Even though it was a first attempt, I managed to capture the tantalizing sweetness of orchard life, complete with sticky-and-ripe-fruit-juice-dribbling-down-chin flashbacks. Warm autumnal spices looped through the fruit, bringing back memories of compote and desert pyrohy stuffed with plums and crusted with granulated white sugar.
“It tastes like Sviata Vechera,” I said to Italics through happy tears, “that’s what I’m going to call this recipe: Sviata Vechera.”