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The Mast-Head: Small Batches

Wed, 08/21/2019 - 14:19

The other morning, looking out toward Gardiner’s Bay, I saw two white-tail bucks browsing among the beach plum scrub. They were spectacular from a distance, sleek buff coats and high antlers still in velvet. But I cursed their existence.

This is the time of the year when thoughts, mine anyway, are all about making jam and jelly. The dunes here that slope gently south expose the finicky beach plums to maximum sunlight and protect them from late-spring storms that can knock off the blossoms before they can set into pellet-size nascent fruit.

Having made it to August, the nearly ripe berries seem to be favored by deer, and I thought about chasing the two bucks off. Not that it would have done much good; their prints string across the sand in front of the house each morning, as if to say, “This place is actually ours‚” in hoofed Morse code.

I can probably bring the first of the beach plums in over the weekend. It is an annual ritual for me, which ends with half a dozen or so jars of jelly sealed and put up in a dark cupboard. In a good and productive season, I lose track of how many I have made, and where I stashed them.

On the prior Sunday morning, I went early to the place where I usually find wild blackberries. It was a slow, hard pick, and I scarcely covered the bottom of my plastic pail. A red-tailed hawk, perhaps the same one that watched me the year before, made irritated warning calls from its roost on a utility tower, and I thought about the smaller mammals and birds that would otherwise have been feeding on the blackberries if I had not been there, and that the hawk’s breakfast plans had been dashed. I’d screech, too.

There were enough to go around among the rodents, birds, and me. My hands, cut by the thorns, turned purple as I found ripe berries deep in the thicket, perhaps where hungry birds had not yet bothered to probe. The half-quart I picked was enough for a small, quick batch of jam made Tuesday morning. By the time I left for work, there were four 8-ounce jars cooling out of the way on a cabinet top.

With a little more rain and a little sun, the next round of picking will be better. That much I know.

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