When my great-grandfather passed away a couple years ago, my dad gave me one of the last jars of pear jelly he made. The top of the jar is marked with a sharpie, “PP 07,” for pear preserves. I’ve kept it in my fridge since he died, wondering what I should do with it.
It seemed that these pear preserves, as my great-grandpa’s legacy, should have been destined for something great. Maybe the golden contents of this jar should fill a tart. Possibly I could use them to add a surprise flavor to apple pie. Mayhaps I could reduce the preserves and use them to top French toast or pancakes, or to fill a shortbread cookie. So many possibilities, none of which seemed appropriate. So the jelly jar has languished in my fridge for the past couple of years, surviving one refrigerator breakdown and one cross-town move.
I’m more like him and my late great-grandmother than I ever thought I would be. I garden, I bake things, I feed people. I try to be forgiving of other’s faults, being mindful of my own imperfections and shortcomings. I try to be welcoming to everyone– at my great-grandfather’s funeral, his son (my grandpa) said that his motto was, “If you claim us, we’ll claim you.” My family tree is a knotted tangle of stepchildren, divorces, half-siblings, second and third marriages, and a few strays. Each branch, regardless of any blood relation or lack thereof, bears the Williams name in heart if not on paper. For this man, “family” meant more than a marriage certificate or a genetic connection; family was the feeling created when all of us were together in that tiny house, elbowing around each other to get another glass of tea or another slice of chocolate pie.
At Christmas last year, my father’s house was full of people: my dad and his wife; my sister and her boyfriend; my grandparents; my aunt and her two near-grown children; my uncle with his wife, two sons, one daughter, all of their partners and his three grandchildren; my dad’s daughter-in-law with her new husband and their four children; and my boyfriend and I. He whispered to me, “This is when I like having a small house.” I looked around, and saw the half-dozen conversations, the way we all interrupt each other. The way we all helped ourselves to cans of soda from the fridge and watched the little ones open their presents. The way no one watched the TV that played in the background. It made me happy that I’ve never lived in a big house. I’ve always had a big family in small houses, packed together like sardines when we all make the time to be in the same place at the same moment. We bump into each other, wrap our arms around each other, and smile in the warm comfort of wooden floors and warm ovens.
So when I started baking my own bread a few weeks ago with the book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I knew what to do with the pear jelly. I’ve been working through it exactly the way my great-grandfather, my grandpa, and my dad would have: one piece of toast at a time.
Note: I’m not going to post the whole recipe here. Suffice it to say, it’s a reliable recipe and I’ve had success making bread, rolls, and pizza with it. See the introduction to the method on the Mother Earth News web site and give it a shot.