05 September, 2008

If Proust Had a Grapevine

During my seventies childhood in the far western suburbs of Chicago, there were only two choices when it came to grocery stores--Dominick's and Jewel, each one a Chicago-area institution with roots stretching back a hundred years. But, like many grocery stores of the era, their selections did not lean toward the exotic. If you wanted jelly, it was strawberry or concord grape. If you wanted juice, well, you could chose between orange, apple, or grape.

Ignorance is bliss, they say, so I grew up completely unaware that I was being deprived of a wider assortment of flavors.

What I remember most about grammar school days is following my first crush John D. around like a lost puppy, sneaking off on my pink dirt bike to visit my grandma--who would forever help keep our visits secret from my parents, as I had to travel across two towns and through a forest preserve to get to her place--and endless lunches centered around peanut-butter and grape-jelly sandwiches, swallowed down with enough grape juice to float the Titanic.

It's no wonder that when I reached junior high, I rebelled and would no longer drink grape juice willingly. In fact, for years, the smell of grape jelly would make my nose curl.

Eventually, I went off to college and forgot about concord grapes altogether. There were more interesting fruits beginning to appear in the grocery stores--exotic mango or lingonberry or boysenberry fruit spreads (don't you dare refer to them as jellies) tempted my palate instead.

I still ate fresh grapes on occasion, although more often than not they were simple green or red table grapes. I don't think I've eaten concord-grape-flavored anything in nearly thirty years.

But we inherited a grapevine with The Box House, and I wasn't going to let all those grapes go to waste. Even after I gave away bags of them to the neighbors, and told the tenants to have as much as they wanted, we still had a large amount of grapes left. Buckets of them. So I decided the first thing I would try was a Concord Grape pie.

Yup, I said pie. I didn't even realize that people made grape pie until Marilyn suggested I attempt one. I don't have a food grinder, so I prepped the grapes the old-fashioned way by slipping off the skins, heating the pulp to break it down, and pushing the pulp through a sieve to catch the seeds. Somewhat tedious work. Then I mixed the pulp back with the skins, stirred in the sugar and other ingredients, dumped the whole mess into a pie shell, and tossed it in the oven.

The whole house quickly filled with the aroma of Concord grapes. Like Proust and his madeline, the delicious scent and that first juicy bite of freshly baked pie sent me reeling back to my childhood and three word popped into my head: Welch's Grape Jelly.

The memories that the grapes invoked were strong; they went beyond my somewhat-stale memory of school lunches to actually being able to taste those PB&Js, the squish of the bread and the squeak of the jelly on my teeth. I thought of lunchtime at DuJardin Elementary, sitting at the faux wood grain folding table with my friends Karen, Kathy, and Alana in our Girl Scout uniforms, giggling over how cute we thought John Christenson or John Slenk or whoever the crush of the week was; I remembered the cold metal feel of my beloved Muppet Show lunchbox, the matching thermos more often than not filled with Spaghetti O's or Campbell's Tomato Soup (and I thought about how many times I traded my lunch for something "better"). The memories made me smile (and search eBay to see if I could find that same lunchbox, without luck.)

In a week where I've been feeling crabby about the vandalism to the flower pots and the theft of the buddha and our caving-in roof, the simple act of harvesting grapes in the sunshine from my very own grapevine made me fall in love with The Box House all over again and made me realize that, despite the hassles and nuisances and the money the house seems to suck up, I'm pretty content here.


Jan Marie said...

Ironically as I was reading your post...I was also snacking on my fav breakfast of rye toast with Welch's grape jelly.

Marilyn said...

Joanne, you had me a Dominick's and Jewel - where my grape jelly came from, too (Smucker's)!

So glad your pie worked out and you had a nice Proustian moment. My favorite grape jelly treat was to "fry" slices of bread in butter, then immediately spread with grape jelly. Hot, buttery, crunch goodness. Look what you started!

Jen said...

Another great story Joanne. There was a time during my anti-mayo years that the only sandwich I would eat was a PB&J. And only grape jelly. Or muscadine jelly that my grandmother made.