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Western Oz Words: Raspberry Jam

"Busy in my kitchen making marmalade a few weeks ago, the hot spicy aroma of the oranges and lemons bubbling in the pan took me back to another kitchen, another world....''

Margaret Dunn tells of the tasty, unforgettable day when she helped her Aunty Nan to make raspberry jam.

Moving through the later years of our lives, how often does some simple event take us back to childhood - for better or for worse. Sounds, images or a fragrance can bring back that happy, or painful, time that has been locked away in the cupboard of memory for so many years.

Busy in my kitchen making marmalade a few weeks ago, the hot spicy aroma of the oranges and lemons bubbling in the pan took me back to another kitchen, another world. I was nine years old and spending the long school holidays with my aunt in Edinburgh. Aunty Nan was the very best of all my relatives and the times I spent with her and my cousin, young Nan, the best of my childhood. No matter how busy she was with housework, there was always time set aside to keep us busy and entertained. She took us to dancing lessons, and taught us new songs: made our dance costumes out of odd remnants or crepe paper, and played the piano for our tap-dance routines.

The house was an old cottage with large attic bedrooms upstairs. In the comfortable lounge room stood the piano, and the china cabinet with family treasures on display. My pleasure was to sit and gaze at the silver candlesticks, delicate china, tiny glass bells and exotic ornaments from distant lands locked within the shining glass panes. In the homely living room we had our meals and after tea would listen to the wireless and play cards. Leading off this room was the long narrow kitchen, and this was where we made the jam.

My uncle’s garden had masses of flowers at the front, sweet william, golden rod, big white daises, peony roses. People passing by used to slow down to look over the fence and soak up the colours and scents. Vegetables and fruit were round at the back of the house. The big attraction for me was the little forest of blackcurrant, raspberry and gooseberry bushes and it was no hardship when my Aunt called us from our play to help with making the jam.

The day I am remembering, Aunty Nan announced we were going to make raspberry jam and set about the preparations in the kitchen. Nan and I took the white enamel bowls and rushed out to the raspberry canes. It had been raining during the night; the earth was damp and dewy, with a lovely wormy smell. The fruit, so moist and juicy, was tempting and the first few berries went straight into our mouths. We worked with quiet concentration, filling our bowls. Sometimes I would pause to gaze at the fruit, tiny soft red globes with a perfect cavity in the centre when it was drawn from the husk.

When there was enough fruit, Aunty Nan washed the berries, then they went into the big jelly pan on the stove. As we pottered around, preparing the jars and writing out the labels, this wonderful hot, fruity smell filled the kitchen - filled the house! Towards the end of the cooking, a sample of the jam was spooned onto a saucer to test for setting, and we all had a taste. When the steaming red nectar was poured into the sterilised jars, Nan and I gave each other little smiles, pleased with ourselves for helping to bring about this miracle.

Next day, we were in the kitchen again, helping to make the scones for tea. To my mind, nothing will ever taste as fine as that first home made scone, spread with butter and our very own ruby-red raspberry jam.


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