Keep a clear eye toward life’s end … Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received — only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage. ~ Francis of Assisi
A sealed pint canning jar sits tucked away in a corner of my kitchen counter. Clear glass, rusting lid and ring — a jar of crude oil if you had to guess. But no; it’s the last jar of my great-grandmother Winnie’s pear preserves.
She passed away over a decade ago at 106, so those preserves must be at least 40 years old. They’re not edible, of course. They’re not even pretty. Not like they were when she first canned them: golden nuggets of textured fruit in an almost-caramelized syrup that caught the Texas sunrise and made you think you were the richest girl on earth.
And I am.
I knew the love of a great-grandmother who understood true beauty. She knew sacrifice and endless hard work and great sorrow. But she also knew how to laugh and play and make you feel like you were the most important person in the world. The sincerity of her joy might have been questioned if not for the losses that testified to her perseverance.
Waking up to sounds of her laughing in the kitchen was pure happiness. The sizzle of pork sausage meant there would also be eggs and toast. And toast meant glorious, creamy pats of butter — and pear preserves.
Great-grandmother was a wonderful cook and made other jams and jellies. But her pear preserves were in a class of their own. They were elegant and hearty, both. Their sweetness layered with savory butter to bring a taste of heaven to earth. They were, simply, her.
I’ve never had the privilege or responsibility of raising and putting up a big garden and orchard, so I never learned how to can. I’ve seen my mama do it, though. I’ve seen the hours of washing, snapping, cutting, peeling, chopping, blanching, boiling. It’s working in steam and heat at the end of an already-hot summer, carrying monstrous loads of sterilized jars and vats of water, praying to hear that sealing “pop” — struggling to face one more bushel of tomatoes but knowing you’ll be grateful to taste sunshine in the middle of winter.
Nothing glamorous. Just the essence of life itself. Canning is a labor of love for your people and God’s earth.
When we cleaned out Great-grandmother’s old stone cellar, I took that last jar of pear preserves because there won’t ever be another. We don’t have her recipe. She probably didn’t have one. (My mama once asked for her peach cobbler recipe: “Oh, Honey, I don’t have a recipe!”)
She cooked by heart — with skill, but by heart. So even if I did have her recipe, my preserves wouldn’t taste the same. She infused her love, her history, herself into every jar. I couldn’t replicate that no matter how hard I tried.
I’d rather have one last jar of now-ugly, now-inedible preserves on my counter. It’s beautiful to me. And the comforting memories it evokes are more than enough.
May you never doubt that your perhaps-less-than-glamorous acts of love and service might encourage someone — even generations from now.