Sweet Abundance

Cooler weather and occasional showers have mitigated the drought in parts of Texas, and summer’s spectacular wildfires have ended. Still, dssiccated pastures, disappearing herds, abandoned lakes and empty stock ponds make clear the continuing need for rain.

Hidden behind these more obvious signs of drought lie other consequences, equally troublesome if more personal.  Enjoying breakfast in a Hill Country kitchen last weekend, I heard a tiny sigh as I split a biscuit and reached for the glass dish holding my friend’s homemade preserves.  “That’s my last jar of peach, and close to my last jar of fig,” she said. “It’s only December,” I said. “Don’t you usually have enough to last ’til summer?”

Yes, she allowed, she usually did. But this year drought put an end to her gardens and orchards. With so little rain, the fig trees barely produced. Peaches were available from irrigated orchards, but they were expensive. Pears were the size of walnuts, and the walnuts didn’t make. Even the dewberries weren’t good, setting so little fruit she left it for hungry birds and animals. The sweet, succulent blackberries that overflowed her baskets in the past withered and died, offering up only a cup or two of tart, nearly tasteless berries. Without good berries an abundance of pies, cobblers and sauces disappeared, not to mention the brandied blackberries that always had been a holiday treat.

“Don’t you irrigate?” I asked. “Yes,” she said, “but as the weeks went by, we had to stop. People were having troubles with their wells. Some went dry, and I didn’t want that. I let the flower gardens go first, then the vegetables. I hated it, but there was nothing to do. I didn’t get a single tomato.”

Life without blackberry cobbler is one thing. Not being able to put up tomatoes is another. For generations of women, including my own grandmother, summer meant canning uncounted quarts of tomatoes, sauced, stewed and diced for the long winter ahead. In the cave which served as combination storm cellar and pantry for my grandparents, the jars shone in the dim light like jewels: tomatoes, peaches and plums, cherries awash in burgundy syrup, jams, jellies and marmelades, sweet corn relish, spiced apples and pears and the translucent shimmer of pickles.

Like my grandparents’ cave, my friend’s larder always had been the very definition of abundance, until the scourge of drought took first her water, and then the harvest that helps sustain her family through the year.

Some of her more drought-tolerant fruits did survive the summer, although their yield was low.  Two varieties of persimmon, the Texas (Diospyros texana) and the Asian (Diospyros kaki) were freely shared with a multitude of birds and squirrels, white-tailed deer, foxes, possums and raccoons.

The possum’s love of persimmons is legendary. In some regions, the creature spends so much time gorging on the fruit the trees are known as “possum wood”. John James Audubon pictured the Virginian Opossum in a persimmon tree, and an old American folk-song celebrates the relationships among the Possum, the Persimmon and the Raccoon.

Possum up in a ’simmon tree, raccoon on the ground,
Raccoon said, “”You rascal, shake them ’simmons down!”

On the Gulf Coast, Atakapa Indians called persimmons piakimin. Early French settlers transformed it into plaquemine, familiar to many as the name of a Louisiana parish. Elias Wightman, a surveyor for Stephen F. Austin in the 1820s, documented persimmon groves in southeast Texas; the trees he found were the drought-resistant natives, their seedy black fruit much smaller and differently-shaped than the larger and more familiar red-orange Asian varieties. Both provide a wonderful base for an assortment of pastries and jams once the frosts reduce their astringent qualities. My first persimmon came from a Hill Country tree, and I was amazed at its smooth sweetness.

For pure eating pleasure from native Texas plants, you can’t do better than jams and jellies made from berries of the agarita, sometimes called “agarito” or “algerita”.   Because of its prickly nature, the best way to gather its berries is to lay a cloth on the ground and thrash the bushes. This year, drought reduced the berry crop even on this hardy plant, so the time spent gathering berries wasn’t worth the return, and agarita jelly wasn’t on the menu.

Even the yield of berries from Scarlet Firethorn, or Pyracantha (Pyracantha coccinea), was lower than usual.  Its beautiful red, red-orange or yellow berries resemble tiny apples and it’s branches often are used for decorating. My favorite bush, a large volunteer along a country fenceline, disappeared when the County showed up to widen and pave the road. Still, the non-native pyracantha thrives, its seeds spread by birds who love its tasty and nutritious berries. Occasionally the berries ferment, leaving robins and waxwings staggering from the bushes, nearly unable to fly.

For years I assumed pyracantha was poisonous, but the apple-shaped berries are perfectly suitable for human consumption. The seeds do contain hydrogen cyanide, but boiling the fruit and straining the pulp to remove the seeds is all that’s necessary. Thanks to my friend, I’ll be trying some pyracantha pancake syrup this week – a small reminder of nature’s abundance and human care.

As friends will do, we spent long hours drinking coffee and talking around the table until a sudden night-time rattling across the tin roof and a rush of wind signaled rain. In a country so long bereft of storms, nothing could be more comfortable, or as comforting.  “We sure do need more of that…” someone said as the rain murmured outside the windows, and the chairs  got pushed back, and we all went off to bed.

The next morning, the “more” we’d hoped for had come. Puddles dotted the caliche drive. Damp cats huddled under the potting shed while water dripped down around them. We said our farewells in drizzle and fog, a gauzy, gray coverlet tucked around the resting ridges and valleys.

An hour later, as I swung around San Antonio and headed east, rain developed – heavy enough to make driving a challenge, and consistent enough to bring a smile.  For thirty miles the rain increased and then eased off, allowing me to see water coursing along the ditches and collecting in the fields. Overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude, I tried, without success, to remember the last time I’d witnessed such abundance.

Passing a farmhouse, I glimpsed a man standing on his porch, hands tucked into jacket pockets, just watching. A few miles down the road, I stopped for gas and coffee and found the fellows standing out front looking very much the same: hands tucked into pockets, eyes focused on the rain.

My own coffee in hand, I left the store only to discover drizzle had turned again into a near-torrent.  Standing under the awning, waiting to see if it might slack off before I headed to the car, I listened to the desultory talk.

“Purty nice,” said one fellow. “Sure enough,” said the other. “Smells good, too,” said a third. And it did. It smelled clean, and fresh. It smelled like a new start, and hope and home. It smelled sweet, like the promise of abundance.

It smelled like next year’s blackberries.

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66 thoughts on “Sweet Abundance

  1. It was only after the rains started falling that I broke down and ordered a couple of pounds of wildflower mixes from Wildseed Farms for the front of the new house. I hope I didn’t jinx the world by planting them last week…

    I’m also easing some baby trees into some holes in my scenescape. They should be reaching a pleasant size about the time we retire the mortgage…again.

    1. Gary,

      There’s never any certainty, but we can hope. After I got home I called my friend – she said there had been enough additional rain that the trucks were leaving pretty good tracks. It’s been months since they’ve seen that.

      It’s going to take some doing to get the lakes filled, but I’m willing to bet your flowers and trees will be fine. I sure do hope so.

      Thanks for stopping by on this chilly day!


  2. You’ve made me think here, Linda, of the fact that persimmons are called kaki in Japan, and caqui (sounds just like “kaki”) in Spanish. Maybe the Portuguese took them from Japan to Latin America.

    All the best for sufficient rain and the next year’s fruit crop…

    1. Andrew,

      It would be fun to search out the relationship between “kaki” and “caqui” and trace the persimmon’s travel. I did do a quick peek into the wiki for persimmon, and found the Asian variety got to Brazil in 1890. I suspect we’ll have it figured out before we’re done!

      I’ll have to go back to some of your market photos and see if I can find persimmons for sale! Here’s another trick I learned: since frost or cold weather hastens the ripening, you can put one in the freezer and have soft, sweeter pulp when it comes out.

      Your good wishes are welcome. We’re grateful for your Chilean fruit showing up in our markets, but it’s just not the same as hand-picked from the tree or vine.


    2. According to Joan Corominas’s etymological dictionary, Spanish took caqui from Linnaeus’s scientific name Diospyros kaki, the second part of which indeed came from the Japanese name of the fruit.

      1. Thanks for that answer, Steve, and for the reference to Corominas’ work, which I certainly wouldn’t have known of otherwise. While I was exploring reviews of the dictionary, I made another discovery – JSTOR. I’ve not seen anything that looks quite so much like a rabbit hole in ages!

  3. I’ve been up here in north Dallas for several weeks, and we’ve had some torrents of rain. It kept me awake for a couple of nights over the weekend. I was tempted to complain, but I know the folks here are grateful for it.

    I’ve never had a persimmon, but it’s a crime to pass a summer without tomatoes ;(

    1. Becca,

      I know there’s been more rain in north Texas – and I’m sure you’ve had your share of sleeplessness for other reasons, too! One thing’s for sure – complaining about the weather is always in season. Too dry, too wet, too hot, too cold – it’s just human to fuss at anything less than perfection!

      I had two vine-ripened tomatoes this year. Pathetic. On the other hand, you’d be surprised how many bacon/tomato sandwiches you can get out of two tomatoes!


  4. We’ve got flooding here in Ohio – torrents of rain with nowhere to go. It’s just not fair that we can’t spread it around some!

    Despite all our rain our tomatoes didn’t do very well this year. They would NOT ripen on the vine – we had to pick them & let them ripen on a table by the back door. We still have some ripening on the kitchen table, but they’re smaller than billiard balls.

    My favorite holiday treat is persimmon pudding. There was a persimmon tree on my grandparents’ farm & we had persimmon pudding every year. The tree is still there even if the farm isn’t – wonder if my aunt Marilyn goes poaching to get the persimmons for my treat?

    1. Bug,

      A few years ago we had too much rain, and the tomatoes did suffer. They split, and were mostly tasteless. As I recall, the people who did best with them had them in pots, and sometimes raised them so they’d drain better.

      I’ve not had persimmon pudding, but I just discovered it’s quite a traditional dish. And the eastern native is a different variety than we have here: “diospyros virginiana”. I think I know what Audubon’s possums were eating, since their scientific name was “Didelphis virginiana”.

      You might get a kick out of this page dedicated to persimmon puddings – it even has Euell Gibbon’s recipe. And if your Aunt Marilyn gets in trouble for poaching, let us know. We’ll help spring her from jail!


  5. Your closure brought a tear to my eye. You have such a way of painting with words.

    I have many blogging friends in Texas, not certain how or why, maybe it is because it’s such a big state and the odds favor that outcome. Whatever the case, I love reading about where I was born…

    and I am always grateful to know when you get some rain.
    ~ Lynda

    1. Lynda,

      I loved the ending of this one. Sometimes I’m a little surprised by the turns a piece will take, and I find myself in a quite different place than I expected. It happened here, and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      Even though I wasn’t born in Texas, I love writing and reading about the state. It’s a way for me to learn even more about my place in the world, and sometimes I find myself hoping people who assume Texas is filled with knuckle-dragging Neanderthals will find something here to at least give them pause.

      And yes – the rain is good. Another two feet and we’ll be all set – but not all at once, please!


  6. I shared my first persimmon this weekend with my partner; a passenger on his bus had given it to him. Neither of us knew anything about persimmons, but our new-found experience tells us they are sweet and good. We didn’t instantly google the question, but here it lands in my inbox this morning.

    When I had a house and a yard, and plum and cherry trees, I would also see raccoons feasting in them; the mother would sometimes leave her kits on my back porch while she harvested, a safe place for them to play. I’ve never seen a possum, except perhaps in a zoo, but now I’m thinking I might bump into one of them soon too. You never know.

    My mother was born in Saskatchewan, her mother in Edinburgh. They knew about dry. They came to the coast after my grandmother made a visit out west. After they moved here (in the early 30s) my mother said she and her brother and sister would dance outside when it rained, while their (parched) mother would sit on the porch and just watch it come down. She would have known what you were talking about.

    It’s been rare for me to see long stretches of days without rain. In Vancouver and the Fraser Valley we’re more likely to see crops ruined by too much of the stuff. Abundance of water does not translate into abundance of growing things, oddly enough, unless it’s the growing pile of sandbags. And yet we do see dry spells some summers. But that’s our coastal story. The same news day in the summer can carry stories of fire and flood, depending where you’ve planted yourself.

    So while I’ll still complain about the rain as I shiver here at a balmy-for-this-country 3 degrees (37 in your language) I’m very glad the rain has fallen where you live.

    1. Shirley,

      Isn’t serendipity wonderful? When I learn a new word it seems to pop up everywhere, but of course that’s probably nothing more than attention and awareness. But persimmons on a bus and in a post? That’s amazing.

      Raccoons are fun. Some years ago I had a mama who’d bring her babies for me to see. There’s no question that’s what she was about. She had to bring them up a tree, one at a time. Once she had them at the French door, she’d scratch until I came. Then, down they’d go, one at a time. She did that three years in a row.

      I do love what I’ve seen of Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. And from what I’ve seen from old family photos, I can understand wanting to move west. The wheat fields are beautiful when conditions are right, but I imagine it could be just as bad there as here when conditions are wrong.

      Your comment about fire and flood reminds me of what it can be like here when a hurricane shows up. Depending on which side of the storm you’re on, conditions can differ radically. There’s a reason they call it the “clean side” and the “dirty side” – and the dirty side’s no fun.

      Believe it or not, we’re sitting at 41 here now, which is why I’m basking in the warmth of the computer screen and not out on the docks!


  7. A lovely ramble in the realms of good housekeeping, background on produce for preserving (and eating as it comes) and the effects of a severe drought.

    We had no fruit to speak of this year, nor did berries flourish; this was due to totally cock-eyed weather patterns: icy winter, warm and early spring, another icy blast to kill most of the blossom and the drought of summer. My Victoria plum tree had one, green, shrivelled plum, which never even turned colour.

    I have a pyracantha hedge, I didn’t know that the fruit is edible. I make a point of leaving it for the birds. Perhaps I’ll try a jar of pyracantha jelly next year.

    One thing which always amazes me when American bloggers show pictures of your roads: they are all EMPTY! you have an abundance of empty space.

    1. friko,

      Your poor plum! We’ve had those years, too, when the late freeze takes out the peaches or apples by destroying the blossoms. There’s always something – we need to add wind and hail to your list!

      I had my pyracantha pancake syrup for supper tonight, and it was delicious. There are recipes galore, and it isn’t a bit different than making any other jelly. I found it interesting that the unwelcome substance in the pyracantha seeds is the same as in apple seeds – and the pyracantha berries look like little apples. There’s surely no relationship, but it’s a lovely bit of serendipity.

      As for our roads – oh, goodness. There’s a lot of space left in our county, but most of my life is spent on traffic-snarled roads. When I have a chance to get away, I look for the emptiest roads I can find. The beauty of it is that you can find places with a little breathing room – it’s a gift I don’t take lightly.


  8. “The translucent shimmer of pickles.” I can see that very jar, and I want to reach for it, right now. The weather is a hard mistress, sometimes. You’re right, life without blackberry cobbler is tough enough, but life without tomatoes to put up is another dimension of deprivation altogether.

    I will respond over my way, too, but I didn’t want to wait another minute before I told you just how thrilled I was to see your poem come across the wires. Thank you!

    1. Susan,

      In fact, the pickles I saw were watermelon pickles, with just a faint pink blush along one edge. Who can imagine a time when nothing was wasted, even the rind of a watermelon? Perhaps we should imagine it – but that’s a different topic, for another day.

      Speaking of different topics, you would have enjoyed being there Saturday evening, when one of the fellows brought out an old dulcimer. I’d had no idea he built them, or played fiddle with his brothers. There’s music everywhere!

      The poem was such fun. I was glad for the “prompt”, and delighted to read the post. My father’s family came from Sweden in the early 1900s, and the language and customs were part of my early years. I should thank you for surfacing some of that again.


  9. We had such a good year for blackberries two years ago that I’ve still got some in the basement – more than we need for another year, probably. We never have to go long without rain here, but we’re still running out of places to pick them. Two of our best patches have been ruined – one by a park they put in – just boring grass and a place to let your dog make a mess – while another – even bigger and closer – is now an enormous construction site. Sad. Don’t know where we’re going to get our blackberries when we do run out.

    1. Ian,

      I remember your posts about picking those berries – with evidence of their juicy goodness all over your white tee shirt, as I recall.

      Our wild berries, the dewberry, are becoming much harder to find. They used to be abundant along rail lines and ditches, but (over?)use of herbicides has done a number on them, as has suburban sprawl. Your loss is differently rooted, but it’s loss all the same.

      I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it ironic that we pay exhorbitant prices at “natural food stores” while happily ignoring practices that reduce the natural food sources that always have been around us. “They” say it can’t be helped, that we need those grassy parks and overbuilt strip malls. I suppose that’s why so many of our new malls are empty.


    1. montucky,

      You phrased that perfectly – “will be over”. We’re a long, long way from that, but at least we know it can rain! There were a few folks around who were beginning to worry the clouds had forgotten what to do!


  10. Oh, the smell of such rain! (and likening it to the promise of blackberries, ‘specially after being deprived of the tiny major sweetness)… And how odd to hear of rain, a sweet rain at this time of year for this former NYer and now Midwesterner – both places packing some snow at this time of year rather than rain.

    Crazy that the rain is far too late for plumping the stuff of “put-ups” – the luxury of sweet stuff like the jellies but also the bounty of veggies we (might just) take for granted….

    But the image of the people with hands in pockets just standing there on the porches and under the awnings watching it – it’s rich stuff.


    1. oh,

      Resiliance is exactly right. Combine it with persistence and a big dollop of luck, and here we go, into the next cycle. Visions of sugarplums? I suspect those fellows I saw envision quite different things – fields of cotton and maize, abundant grasses on the pastureland, rebuilding herds.

      But maybe, just maybe – if the good Lord’s willing and the creek does rise, just a bit, it all will work out, and next spring’s wildflowers will be a harbinger of things to come.

      Rain-watching is a fine occupation. I wouldn’t mind a few more opportunties to engage in it, myself!


  11. “That’s my last jar of peach, and close to my last jar of fig,” she said. “It’s only December,” I said. “Don’t you usually have enough to last ’til summer?”

    Linda you have a knack for telling a story -if we didn’t know there was a severe drought in Texas you certainly woke us up with those lines!

    Love all the background stories of the fruits and berries. Unlike possoms and raccoons I only recently (ie when I moved to California) discovered the pleasures of persimmons.

    Kudos on the last line, and the photo of the long empty road.

    1. dearrosie,

      And you know what’s most touching to me about those jars of preserves? That she pulled them out while I was there, instead of keeping them hidden away, stretching them out for the pleasure of her own family.

      It was touching, but not surprising. Like my grandmother, she’s lived with the mark of the cat near her house – the traditional hobo graphic that translates “a kind woman lives here”. She’s fed plenty of people – family, friends and strangers – in her life, and there’s always a little something to share.

      Truth to tell, the people with the least often are the most generous – perhaps because they’ve lived the experience of want. And it occurs to me they understand something that still escapes many of the “foodies” I know – if you’re going to eat seasonal and local, sometimes you’re going to go hungry.

      Glad you enjoyed that last line. I’m becoming fonder of it every day!


  12. Linda,
    I loved this story and growing up on a farm, I remember one summer we had a bad drought. The cotton and soybeans were all drying up and dying because of no irrigation, and finally we got a nice rainy afternoon. We were down at my cousins’ on their extra large front porch just watching the rain and some of the adults were doing a little bit of thankful praying also.

    Your ending was very familiar.

    You know, I don’t think I have ever had a persimmon…that I can recall. Now I will have to make it a point to try some next time I come across them.

    I really enjoyed your latest story. Thank you!


    1. Patti,

      I always loved the Thanksgiving hymn, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”. It captures so well the overflowing gratitude for a safe and successful harvest, and for all the things – including rain! – that make it possible.

      Whenever I think of the country and all it holds, I remember one of my favorite quotations from Wendell Berry: “”Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup.”

      I think you’d like persimmon – just be sure they’re ripe, or you’ll pucker up like you can’t believe!

      Enjoy the season – we’re all falling behind a little, but there’s still time to relax and appreciate it all.


  13. Oh Linda Oh Linda-girl,

    Your writing is just as sweet as any jam. I love your words and your flow of stories. I’m going to look into persimmons here in New Mexico and try me some jam too.

    Love the rain as much as you and so very glad to see the end to the fires. Seems like we started the season of fire this year and you ended it. Lets hope we don’t get those years again for long enough.

    Had to come see what all the abundance is about.
    Love you
    peace n abundance,

    1. CheyAnne,

      Oh, I’m happy to see you. I thought maybe you’d talked your way into that white ‘Vette and taken off for parts unknown! ;-)

      Persimmons aren’t native to NM, but they do pretty well there, from what I’ve read. Here’s an article to get you started from a grower in central New Mexico. The whole site is pretty interesting, and they’ll send you a catalogue, too.

      May be that a good cycle’s starting at last. We’ll smile and hope and see what happens after the earth’s rested for a while.

      I do appreciate your kind words, and wish nothing but sweetness for you in our swing through winter and the solstice darkness.

      Abundance is a wonderful thing – peace’n’abundance is even better.


  14. Oh, and speaking of etymology, pyracantha is ‘fire acantha’ (compare the pyre that becomes a funeral fire). Greek akanthos meant ‘thorn plant,’ from akantha ‘thorn.’ The first element, ak-, is related to “sharp” words like acute, acrid, acumen, and acid, so etymology gets right to the point on this one.

    1. Steve,

      When you start unpacking a word, it can be surprising how many delights it contains. The same holds true for your comments generally. Getting “right to the point”? My cat’s giving me a bit of a look – I’m not supposed to be laughing at this time in the morning!


  15. So many times this year, I’ve thought of my friends in Texas. At long last you are beginning to get your sweet smelling due (or dew). I’m so glad. I don’t want you all to flood, but I hope it keeps coming — gently enough for the ground to absorb it, enough so you go, “When will it ever stop?!”

    Your words on canning bring back powerful memories for me, hours spent with my grandma who canned just about anything she could from their farm — jams and jellies from fruit, pickles, beans, so much more. Like you, I felt excited seeing the colorful and shiny jars, fresh and warm. And oh, the adventure to go into the cellar with its rock walls and cistern to select the evening’s accompaniment to dinner. It’s my fondest hope that the berries, figs and peaches will return and in a year you will enjoy a great bounty of flavor!

    1. jeanie,

      I can’t think of a better phrase than “When will it ever stop?” And given a choice between flooding and no rain, I guess I’d lean toward flooding. But, as always, we take what we get, are grateful for that and just keep on.

      Those cellars and caves were so wonderful. I still remember my excitement when I grew old enough – and strong enough! – to lift open the heavy doors by myself. And it was such fun to play “King of the Mountain” on top of our personal mountain – I have no idea who took this photo, but it probably was Mom or Dad. Just think of all the garden and orchard treasure lying underneath my feet!

      It’s occurred to me that “abundance” always is used to designate good things – a rich harvest, the blessing of family and so on. Here’s to abundance of every sort in the coming year!


  16. Nice article. This definitely was a hard year for fruit, wild or cultivated. I had to search much further and harder for fruit for my jellies and jams. Some fruit, such as loquat, never materialized anywhere. Limes, Barbados cherry, sumac, and Japanese persimmon were other no shows. Blackberries, dewberries, mustang grapes, and jujubes were smaller than usual.

    1. texasjellymaker,

      I’d not really thought of it until you mentioned it, but I didn’t see any loquats this year. And the wild cherry up in “my part” of the hill country never made, either.

      Your mention of sumac intrigues me. I’ve always loved it for its color, but now I’m wondering – can it be used for jelly, too? I’ll come over to your site and see what I can find – about that, and other treasures, too.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for the comment. You’re welcome any time.


  17. Like Lynda, I loved, loved, loved that last line. It was perfect — as right as rain in a year of drought.

    And your response to Lynda too — about those surprising turns our writing takes — writing toward one end to meander to a sweeter one. How I know this well.

    Perhaps sweet endings like this come from the same place as sweet rain. But however, wherever — let them both spill into your life with sweet abundance.

    1. Janell,

      I know you’ve read Dillard’s “The Writing Life”, and probably have lived this wonderful paragraph:

      “The line of words is a hammer. You hammer against the walls of your house. You tap the walls, lightly, everywhere. After giving many years attention to these things, you know what to listen for. Some of the walls are bearing walls. They have to stay, or everything will fall down. Other walls can go with impunity. You can hear the difference.

      Unfortunately, it is often a bearing wall that has to go. It cannot be helped. There is only one solution, which appalls you, but there it is. Knock it out. Duck.”

      In short: a big pile of words isn’t an abundance of words. I’ve figured out that’s one reason for editors!


  18. I thought pyracantha was poisonous, too. Who knew? Paracantha pancake syrup? Now that’s interesting. You must let me know what you think of it.

    Reading this made me think about how connected our welfare is to the weather and the earth. It’s easy for people to miss the connection when we can run down to the market for our needs, but this is a reminder that a few bad seasons could cause grave shortages. A little unsettling.

    1. Bella,

      Just for you – pancakes with pyracantha syrup for supper. It wasn’t as smooth as a maple syrup, but had a little “texture” to it – bits of the berries. It was a little thicker, too – better spooned than poured.

      It had a hint of citrus – or tartness, anyway. It was quite good, and not as sweet as some syrups, which I consider a plus.

      I’ve headed off in different directions since coming back from my trip, but there still are posts to be written about things I learned in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota – about the land, about modern farming, and about changes which are transforming the food chain in unhappy ways. Take ethanol, for example – it’s use as fuel has raised corn prices, but reduced available food grains. It’s that old law of unintended consequences.

      As for being disconnected from the earth, it can have its humorous side. A couple of years ago I was in a cow barn at a county fair when a group of grade-schoolers learned precisely where their milk comes from. They were awe-stricken to see that cow milked – except for the little girl who informed us she NEVER would drink milk again!


  19. I’m reminded of Greg Brown’s song, “Canned Goods”:

    Taste a little of the summer
    Grandma put it all in jars

    1. Al,

      That’s it. Exactly.

      “She cans the pickles, sweet and dill,
      She cans the song of the whippoorwill,
      And the morning dew and the evening moon,
      ‘N I really got to go see her pretty soon
      ‘Cause these canned goods I buy at the store
      Ain’t got the summer in them any more…”

      Believe I’ll have a second helping of that song.


  20. This is an interesting post. I love berries, but mainly just to look at their succulent colors, because they’re usually too sour for my taste. Your post has informed me what a drought can do to a single gardener… her cans will go short much too soon. And that a few drops of rain, drizzles, then down pour, can bring not only long awaited moisture, but hopes and dreams as well.

    My, this is excellent. I love your writing, and come to think of it, no wonder you were so interested to know what the berries are in the photo of my post ‘Signs of Fall’. Well, now I know, they’re from a ‘Mayday’ tree (some other sources say ‘Mulberry tree’. Not sure.) Here’s the photo again.

    1. Arti,

      Oh, you remembered! Yes, I was trying to decide if those were pyracantha berries. The leaves didn’t look quite right. As my friend says, the first step is using such ingredients in cooking is to be 200 percent sure of what you have on your kitchen counter! Mushroom hunters follow the same precepts, I’m told.

      I think the emotional tone of waiting for rain is very much the same as what you folks experience when waiting for spring. A strange kind of tension develops. We know we can’t do anything about the situation, but still we keep trying to will rain or daffodils into existence.

      I suspect I could turn you into a berry-eater with some lovely, vine-ripened berries, still warm from the sun and ready to drop of their own weight from the vine. In fact, I’m sure I could!


  21. What a beautiful post, Linda! It inspired me and uplifted me and brought back so many memories of my mother who gathered everything there was to be gathered to store away for the dark days of winter. She even gathered dandelion leaves and watercress in the spring for our first fresh salads of the year. When you don’t have much, you make do with what nature gives you.

    Interesting that you mentioned Plaquemine, which is where my husband worked when we lived in Baton Rouge (1990-1995). He had to cross that big scary Mississippi River bridge every workday. :)

    It’s nice to be visiting you again, and reading and enjoying.


    1. Susan,

      They knew how to make do, our mothers. Fathers too, for that matter. Hunting and gathering were realities of life, not pretty metaphors for a trip to the market. My earliest memory of “gathering” involved the native walnuts. We’d bring them home, let them dry and then I’d sit on the back porch with my hammer, cracking them. I don’t recall that I was very efficient, but I was enthusiastic.

      I didn’t realize you’d lived in Baton Rouge. One of my mother’s cousins is still there, on the east side. That’s where I discovered the joy of tire swings.

      It’s wonderful to have you stopping by, and it thrills me that you found something cheering here. Best wishes for the Christmas season.


  22. It’s amazing how far reaching a drought reaches. I sure hope that Texas doesn’t have to deal with this again next year. We’re expecting rain tomorrow – and quite a bit of it, and I hope it moves your way.

    1. Karen,

      “They” say we’re in for drought well into next summer – but you and I both know “they” can be pretty darned wrong. I’ve been a bit under the weather myself, so I’ve not been tracking much of anything, let alone weather. But I’m much perkier tonight – I believe I’ll go peer at the maps and see if you might be sending us a Christmas gift!


  23. Oh, how heavenly, Linda, to end this post with such welcomed rain. Having lived in Atlanta for 25 years, I know about what you speak. Well, maybe not all the canning and preserving and jamming parts but the rain part! I have learned to love love love the rain over the course of my life, no matter where I am.

    You have such an exquisite way of putting this all together to bring a smile of relief!

    1. Ginnie,

      I think everyone has a deep and abiding attachment to rain.When I was on my trip in October, I brought back a wonderful story of a rainmaker of the late 1800s. If the rain won’t come, people will resort to some very strange behaviors to move it along!

      I don’t know how it is for you, but quite apart from the physical necessity for rain, I love the enforced lingering indoors that rainy days can bring. Time to read, to write, to nap, to stitch or draw, all without any sense that I “should” be doing this or that.

      I suppose for a photographer, it’s a time for processing. You need good light and good weather for your wanderings – or at least not a downpour!


  24. i thought of you when i heard about your heavy rains. i can imagine the smell of the rain. what a contrast to hear people not complaining about a rainfall when it’s in abundance.

    1. maggie,

      Not only that, it’s a complete amazement to see Houstonians respond like small-town dwellers as these first, slight rains have come. At gas stations, grocery-store checkouts, bus stops, and so on, everyone is talking about the weather – happy and smiling, and just a little amazed to find themselves so aware of what’s happening around them.


  25. I’m not sure why, but the last few lines gave me chill bumps and watery eyes. Maybe some of it is guilt over having had rain while others suffered severe drought and frightening fires? Regardless, your words continue to reach deep into my soul, stir it around, and leave me longing for more of your insights.

    1. Bayou Woman,

      I’ve been thinking about this, because my response to the ending is very much the same, even though I wrote it. I don’t think your response has anything to do with guilt.

      Here’s my current theory: a good dose of reality and simplicity always will touch us, perhaps especially so, today, because we live in a world devoted to nurturing an unnatural complexity. Think about the difference between the men’s conversation and the blathering that fills up television, radio and the internet. The men might be considered “hicks” or unsophisticated by some, but the truth is they didn’t need more words to communicate.

      And now I’ll shut up, since I’ve already used ten times the words to analyze their conversation! But I suspect you understand.

      Thanks for stopping by – and for the gingerbread recipe!


  26. Fantastic pics Linda, so mellow and fruitful! We’ve just come out of three years of drought here on the other side of the world – rain every three or four days. The garden is acting like the drought never happened, everything is coming back in “abundance”. Things that I assumed had shriveled and died are sprouting and flowering. Nature seems to shrug off adversity and plod on.

    1. Jeannine,

      It’s an amazing thing to see – and feel. The ground here doesn’t seem like concrete any more. There’s a little “give” when you walk across it. We have a long way to go – as I’m sure you do – but there’s a huge difference between a half-inch every week and nothing for weeks and weeks on end.

      Of course, we’re moving into winter now, with its cooler temperatures, while you’re celebrating the return of the summer and its hordes. I hope you keep getting that wonderful rain – and that the shop brings abundance, too.

      Good to have Nature for that role model, eh? Shrugging off adversity and plodding on isn’t the worst thing in the world!


  27. We used to can and preserve stuff every summer. Pearbutter – yum. It was rationed and valued as Christmas presents as we got older. One of the nicest things about being in the TX woods in the fall was discovering that the persimmons on the trees were ripe and ready to eat. (The TX natives are much smaller than the Japanese ones). Birds used to watch the pyracantha bushes and swarm them as soon as those berries were ripe – then they’d get drunk on them and sometimes even fall down and wobbly-walk around.

    Hope we have a nice wet spring and good rain this summer so next summer’s “crops” will be better.

    1. philosophermouse,

      I didn’t know there could be anything but apple butter until I came to Texas. I certainly didn’t know about pumpkin and sweet potato butters, anymore than I knew about tomato preserves. Now I have to put pear butter on my list of things to try!

      It is fun watching the birds in the pyracantha – and in the palm trees. There’s a whole row of trees with those tiny, round black fruits where I live, and when those ripen, you can hardly hear yourself think from the bird-chatter.

      We’ve had .30″ of rain last night and this morning. It won’t fill the reservoirs, but it will help keep our shrubs alive!


  28. in my old age I made peace with the blackberry. We had about 3 acres as a kid. Great place to get a new box turtle but come July spending afternoons cut to shreds berry picking was torture. I wouldn’t eat any out of that patch. Across the river at family farm the lane to cabin had vines that I ate handfuls off but never out of the patch.

    Pears were by the pickup load by the way.

    This winter is an odd one. No ice for fishing and no snow but wet enough so far.

    1. blufloyd,

      Hearing lots of complaints from various northerners about that lack of snow business. I keep an eye on a webcam up at Mille Lacs just for fun, and it looks to me like the ice is melting again. Sure wouldn’t want to drive out to my fish house – wouldn’t even want the thing out there right now.

      Love the vision of that loaded pickup. When I was over in Louisiana at Christmas, I saw that same kind of thing with the satsumas. BW wasn’t kidding – it’s a bumper crop this year. I brought some home, and enjoyed the heck out of them. Citrus always tastes like Christmas – when I was a kid it was a Big Deal to get that orange in the toe of the stocking!

      Best wishes for the new year. Hope you make it down to the bayou one of these days.


  29. Nitti’s? I love watching that in am after work. When I was working at working…
    Well, I am grilling Italian sausage so I ought to pay attention to that…

    1. blu,

      No – Chapman’s, which shows Isle Bay, Malone Point, Hawkbill Point & Big Point. It also shows 24.8 degrees just now – brrrrrrrr!
      We’re thirty degrees warmer, but going down with a current frontal passage.


  30. Beautiful, rich and generous post ! I loved reading the comments too. It is like a conversation that goes on between friends each one bringing one’s own memories and experiences. A pleasant community indeed.

    Abondance et Reconnaissance do rhyme in French, I like that (abundance, gratefulness). To think that we take tomatoes, blackberries, peaches and many other Nature’s gifts for granted because rain is mostly frequent over here… I love your writing about rain falling. This post is about senses; the taste, the sounds, the scents, the touch of the rain on your skin.

    Like some of your friends, I was touched by the last paragraph where these men stood looking at the rain falling, loving it. I wonder could E. Hopper have painted it ? You painted it with your words and I do remember a painting of a lonely gas station by E. Hopper. Thank you Linda for the lovely pictures too. May Spring bring lots of showers to Texas.

    1. isabelle,

      It is much like a conversation, isn’t it? That certainly is how I’ve understood it – each entry is both an end to the writing process and a beginning for response and conversation. But we all are friends here – you, too! – and I treasure each and every comment that adds to the conversation.

      Sometimes I watch people in restaurants, on the shoreline, in beautiful parks – totally engrossed in their little devices, sending and receiving messages or doing whatever it is that they do, and I wonder: are we diminishing our own capacity to respond to the world? Are we dulling our own senses? I suppose my own answer is obvious. There’s just too much world around us to be staring at an inches-wide screen all day!

      Edward Hopper is one of my favorites. Perhaps this is the gas station you remembered. He has a remarkable way of capturing people in their environments with all of the clutter of life swept away – I’m thinking especially of “Automat” and “Nighthawk”, which I love. When I see those men in my mind, I see them very much as a Hopper painting – a perfect moment in time.

      So many delights lie ahead in the new year – you’ll be offering us your own special forms of creativity, and for that I thank you.


  31. “Purty nice”, Linda! :) I could spend days reading your blog, just sitting and reading on rainy days, like today. So wonderful, I did not know about some of those berries. We just discovered persimons last year, and my girl loves them, and so do I. I am not sure if you had seen it, but a friend recommended a while ago a documentary which looks interesting, called The Fruit Hunters. It is on my list to see.

    I can just picture those men standing there staring into the rain. Seems like I had seen that scene before, something so familiar about it. How scary it is to lose everything due to a drought like that. This summer many IL farmers lost crop due to too much rain.

    1. Feast or famine, as they say. It can be interesting here in Texas. Because the state is so big, cotton farmers can be worrying about too much rain at the same time the corn and millet farmers are worrying about too little. Amazing.

      I may have mentioned it above, but do you know the best way to ripen persimmons? Put them in the freezer. They don’t get ready to eat until the weather gets cold, so you can fool them that way. My friend likes to put them in the freezer, then take one out and eat it with a spoon, like ice cream.

      I love finding groups of country people: playing dominoes, waiting out rain, just sitting and talking. Tall tales, gossip, comparing the advantages of different kinds of fencing — it’s all a delight. Part of the reason, I think, is that they’re less nervous about expressing their opinions, and they don’t get quite so offended if someone holds a different opinion. It always makes me smile, when I realize again that the truly tolerant people in the world aren’t always the ones who scream most loudly about inclusiveness and tolerance.

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