I am making grape jelly using a recipe from Australian Cookery of Today: Illustrated.
Lemon juice and zest, in the place of tartaric acid, sugar and cabernet sauvignon grapes from dad’s vine.
I visited today. Dad was keen to talk but mum stayed close. Dad asked for a recipe for fig jam. Why hadn’t he asked her, she complained as she started searching for a recipe in one of her books.
She found the recipe for pecan squares and I reminded her of how much we loved them when she used to make them along with her pecan tarts – which were amazingly good. Forgotten, but she did say she would make them and she left the book open on the table. I said that she would have to get pecan nuts at the supermarket but I doubt she will remember why she had the book out when she next sits down at the table. She gets cranky when we leave her out. She was after all, the problem solver in the family.
Dad tries hard to take me aside. They had an appointment in Melbourne last week and he wants to tell me the outcome since I initiated most of the discussion that took place. Without them knowing, I went to see her specialist to tell him what was really happening at home and then I wrote the details in a letter to remind him what he needed to discuss with them (mum and dad) at her next appointment: the bathroom, her ability to manipulate, my fears about cooking and safety, and dad’s desire to see a different doctor closer to home. When mum was first diagnosed she took a dislike to the Geelong specialist who she saw and insisted that she be referred to a Melbourne doctor. It was becoming increasingly harder for them to get to Melbourne to see him, especially now that there was little he could do for her.
We went outside to check the figs on the fig tree. I climbed up the ladder and picked the ripe ones, reminding dad of how dangerous ladders were … even for me. The birds had started on some and others were reaching the soft and squishy stage. We picked enough for him to get started on his jam. He wants to add lemons and ginger to the recipe I found for him. Back inside I weighed figs and worked out that three figs was about 200 grams. All he has to do is count them out then chop them up and add a small cup of sugar for each three. I peeled knobs of ginger for him and put them in a jar of water … ready for him to grate.
In the 1960s dad made a cellar. With the help of friends he dug a huge hole, lined it with bluestone blocks, made a steps down to it from bluestone blocks, covered it in with concrete then made a door that could be pulled and propped open. He bottled and stored wine there. My school friends and I sampled sticky sweet port from a small wooden barrel using the Vegemite glass kept for sampling. We were in Grade six. We must have got noticeably tipsy, but I can’t remember any one ever saying anything. He planted grape vines then and one now covers the trellis over the courtyard outside the cellar. The cellar is probably full of water now after a deluge last week. No one ever goes down there and it’s many years since its walls were lined with bottles of wine.
I picked bunches of musk covered grapes for my jelly whilst we stood in the space where our family once gathered for meals, where dad and his friends bottled wine and where in my teenage years I took a break from the sun whilst sunbaking in the back yard, all the while talking quietly about mum, him prodding his figs to test for ripeness.
Mum’s doctor told me that she had the worst kind of Alzheimer’s to treat. “She won’t acknowledge there is any thing wrong with her and this makes it very hard to offer any support,” he told me. I admire her stubborn stand and the way she hangs on to her normal self as if to spite this awful regression. She is making crumbed sausages for dinner tonight. For dessert they are having store bought crème caramel. Dad is preparing to make fig jam.
My jelly is getting close to the setting stage. If this small batch works, I will go and strip the vine. I will make it with the six pounds of grapes and five pounds of sugar called for in the recipe and swap it jar for jar for Dad’s fig jam.