Waste not, want not. This is what I tell myself every time I make preserves. My grandmother used to have a gnarled old nectarine tree on a rural property, and the thing would produce tons and tons of nectarines every year. She never thinned them (we are a family of lazy gardeners) but they were still big, and the tree was prolific. I would take home grocery bags of fruit, gorge myself on them until I couldn’t possibly fit in another nectarine, and eventually they would go moldy in the refrigerator and I’d feel horribly guilty.
But the summer of my senior year in high school, I went to Germany. Towards the end of my stay there it was cherry season, and the village trees were full of sour cherries that had to either be used or be left to the birds. I got to participate in the household’s cherry preserve making– hot kitchen, big pots, lots of jars– and even smuggled some home, wrapped up in some jeans that hadn’t been washed since I had milked a cow. In my teenaged brain, I was hoping the stink would deter customs from unwrapping my stinky jeans from around the jars of preserves. Looking back, I was lucky the jars hadn’t broken and made all my clothing cherry red.
The upshot of all of this is that I learned how to make nectarine preserves, and they were syrupy, garnet perfection! I used them in yogurt, on ice cream, and even mixed the syrup in with seltzer like an Italian soda. Years later, the nectarine tree is gone, but now when I’m faced with an abundance of fruit I know what to do with it, so I don’t have Wasted Fruit Guilt (look for it in the DSM-V!)– preserves! It was such a source of comfort for so many years!
I never ever suspected preserves would turn on me, though.
The house we live in now has a loquat tree. It’s one of those messy sorts of trees, and many people don’t even bother eating the fruit, thinking it’s only ornamental. Squirrels, rats and birds are constantly dropping loquats on our roof all season long and chittering about them, or pecking so hard to get to the seed (almost the whole thing is seed) that it sounds like we have roofers doing work on the house. Even so, there’s still enough loquats to warrant some guilt if I see them languishing on the tree.
But oh, they turned on me, the fickle things. A few years ago, I made loquat preserves– which was much harder to prep than either cherries or nectarines, I might add!– and sealed up the jars. After they had cooled and I wanted to try out my new, hard-earned preserves, I tried opening a jar. It was stuck. I went to where my husband was sitting on an armchair, scrolling through endless pedalboard discussions on the laptop ( “Do you like overdrive or fuzz pedals better? Discuss! Everyone take pictures of their pedalboard! What’s your go-to amp?” They go on and on.) he struggled– and then with a jerk and a splash, half the preserves splattered all over the chair, the husband, and the laptop.
The laptop was never the same again, and come to think of it, the husband was never the same, either. Everybody was traumatized, and the laptop died an agonizing death.
And now it is loquat season again. On the one hand, I would rather preserve them than have them rot on the ground. If I can get the image of a dead and sticky laptop out of my mind, I like the mildly tropical taste of the loquats on toast. It’s a vague sort of sweetness. But can I get that image out of my mind? I’m beginning to doubt it. I suppose I have to ask myself which is worse– feeling guilty about unused fruit, or having laptop related flashbacks. This is usually the kind of philosophical quandary I save for major life decisions, like whether or not to leave a job or have a kid! Why did such a comforting and practical activity have to turn into something so angst ridden?
This afternoon, though, stumped about how to end this article, I ate a loquat. It was good. Too good for all those pesky scrub jays. But this time, I’m keeping the jar five feet from the laptop at all times! Wish me luck.