Monday, 15 July 2013

My grandmother used to "do a boiling"

and, no, she was not losing her temper. I never saw my paternal grandmother lose her temper. Once in a while she would hold her breath and you knew that she wanted to say something - but she never did.
"Doing a boiling" referred to making marmalade. She would do more than one "boiling". One lot would be Seville orange from the tree in the back garden, another lot would be grapefruit from fruit my grandfather - a tailor - would be given by one of his customers. If there was fruit left she might combine the two or even add some lemon. Fruit did not come waxed from the greengrocer in those days.
Grandma, as we called her, would stand at the kitchen table and cut the fruit with a very sharp knife. The slices were so thin they were transparent. Grandma was an artist with a kitchen knife.
I suppose she had been doing it for more than fifty years when I first saw her do it. There was real skill involved. Before she married my grandfather her marmalades and jams had won prizes in the local rural show in the area she lived in.
I would sit and watch as she explained what she was doing - and why she was doing it. For a woman who had a mere three years of schooling before being taken out and put to work on the farm my grandmother was an outstandingly good teacher. In another era she would have continued at school and perhaps had a professional career. Instead, she saw that her sons and her grandchildren understood the value of education.
I never made the marmalade myself. I helped with the washing of the fruit, the washing and warming of the jars - and, of course, the tasting!
My mother made marmalade later. Hers was, like her mother's, much chunkier. They were impatient to get the job done and not as interested in the outcome. We children were not allowed anywhere near the process.
In the last couple of years before her death my mother reluctantly allowed me in on the process - but only because she could not handle all that needed to be done. I was still not allowed to do such things as judge when it was ready to put in the jars and she would supervise me adding the water and, later, the sugar. She would always write the labels in her still neat, infant school teacher print.
After my mother died there was no one to make marmalade unless I did. The Senior Cat likes marmalade on his slice of breakfast toast. I would, I announced, do a boiling. I am still doing them.
I do not slice the fruit the way my paternal grandmother did but I do not make the chunky sort my mother and maternal grandmother did. No, we have a nifty "slicer" which does the job almost as well as my paternal grandmother did it. It is also fast and efficient. Cutting the fruit is not a chore. The Senior Cat has even offered to help. I decline that offer and ask him to make sure we have enough jars saved. He is good at bringing in the jars stored in the shed over the year and making sure they are ready for use.
"How do you know when it's ready?" he asks me every year. It is a sort of alchemy to him - and perhaps even to me.
"You just do... you put a little bit on a saucer when you think it is about right and..."
He nods and shrugs and looks bewildered. I know he is not really concerned. As long as marmalade results he will be happy.
I have found a safer way to transfer the marmalade to the jars - the issue of concern for my grandmother and strictly forbidden by my mother.  I ignore my mother's instructions and come closer to those of my paternal grandmother yet again in so many things.
And, every year, I wonder at how much my paternal grandmother taught me about things like making marmalade - and "doing a boiling" without losing my temper,


jeanfromcornwall said...

These Grandmothers, and their skills! I still remember mine and the way she would butter the end of the loaf, and cut wafer-thin slices with the bread clasped to her ample bosom. It scared me: I was afraid she might cut her pinny!
I have no idea how much schooling she had had, but in the house, she was an artist.

catdownunder said...

I think some of them were better educated than anyone realised. My grandmother would often explain "why" something should be done. She was a superb teacher.