At ground level

A column about LIFE

Grape Jelly 101

It’s hard to believe I’m back to square one, a novice at making jelly. It’s even harder to believe that I wanted to go back to making jelly in the first place. When I saw my grape vine’s bountiful crop, I just couldn’t resist.

A bountiful grape harvest

I was in awe at the grapes that draped this gigantic vine yesterday morning, considering I had hardly watered the vine this summer and the only tending I ever did was to cut the vine down to size to prevent it from crawling up to our windows and on to the roof. I instinctively grabbed a container and began picking the grapes off the vine. A little more than five pounds of grapes filled my container.

I don’t know who planted this grape vine. Even my landlord was surprised to learn he had this grape vine in his yard. It has yielded many grapes since I’ve lived here, but this time, the grapes were overflowing. I’m not even sure what variety of grapes they are. I do know they’re edible and safe to eat. They’re smaller than the ones you buy at the store, not as sweet, and leave a tangy taste in your mouth. I’m guessing they’re wild California grapes.

Then came the dilemma … now that I picked all these grapes, what could I do with them, I wondered. Do I make grape pie or jelly? I yearned for pie, which can taste so delicious, but I’ve only made pie with Concord grapes. These grapes are smaller than Concord grapes, the seeds would be a problem, and I no longer had my sieve. So I set out to make jelly, instead.

It’s been years since I’ve made jelly. I often made apple and plum jelly many years ago, but I have never made grape jelly, especially wild grape jelly. So, today, Google was my friend. I came across a few recipes and timidly set out to try one that received great reviews. After two trips to the store – first for small plastic containers, and then later, when I realized I would actually have enough for several pints of jelly, I went back for the whole shebang – a box of half pint jars with lids and rings, cheesecloth, pectin, and even paraffin.

I spent the afternoon stemming the grapes and washing them, but when I was ready to start making the jelly, I realized I had forgotten the technique. Which came first – sterilizing the jars, lids and rings, melting the paraffin, or boiling the mixture? The recipes never tell you everything, and I couldn’t recall the procedure which, at one time, I used to carry out so flawlessly. Without a dishwasher to help me sterilize the jars, this project became even more challenging. Then came a flashback of my first year on the farm …

Like a novice, I kept glancing at the recipe after every move I made, in between Googling how best to sterilize the jar, how to melt the paraffin, or if I should even still use paraffin. I somehow managed to boil the grapes, strain them through the cheesecloth, take them back to the pan, add the pectin, boil the mixture, add the sugar and boil it again, and at the same time sterilize the jars, lids and rings, and melt the paraffin. That’s probably where I got my excellent multi-tasking skills, I muttered to myself, as I hurried along.

The balancing act wasn’t over. Then it was time to pour the liquid into the jars (Alas, I no longer have my funnel!), skim off the leftover foam and bubbles, wipe the mixture that had spilled out of the jars, then add the paraffin and attach the seals and rings while the mixture was still boiling hot.

After it was all over, I breathed a sigh of relief and surveyed my kitchen and the purple spills around me. Yep, I can no longer brag about my canning expertise. I am back to being a novice!

While washing the pans and cleaning up the spills, I kept checking my jelly, hoping it would set. I finally remembered it isn’t jello; jelly doesn’t set instantly.

More than an hour has passed and it looks like the paraffin has set. Now I remember that I used to go to bed and wake up the next morning to homemade jelly. I think I’ll do that again … If my grape jelly turns out to be a success, then some very special people will receive a jar; if not, I’m going to be stuck with a heck of a lot of grape sauce and will have to search for another bunch of recipes!

Grape jelly all done (I hope!).

September 19, 2011 Posted by | California, Life | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where “home” was always meant to be …

As we stepped outside the airport in the wee hours of the morning, a blast of hot air hit us. Then came the noise from the traffic and a swarm of people. I smiled, for I knew I was home. After a short drive, we arrived at my mother’s house. There was Mom, who is 84, looking so well and happy to have us back.

It was raining; in fact, there was a typhoon, which thankfully, had not crossed our airplane’s path. I loved the smell of the rain. Then came the sweet aroma of garlic rice, eggs and spam, a traditional Filipino breakfast – yet another sign that I was home. Except for a few out of town trips and gatherings with friends, I stayed close to home this trip. It was just nice to be in the house.

The house we now call “home” is the perfect place for Mom. It’s almost identical to, but a smaller version of the home where my siblings and I spent much of our childhood years. This one-story house where Mom now lives is located in an exclusive village in Makati, the business and shopping center of the country. It is the very first house Mom and Dad built a few years after they were married, though they never lived here. Instead, they had the same architect design and build a larger two-story version of this Eichler home, 900 sq. meters, in Loyola Heights, close to the schools they wanted us to attend.

For nearly three decades they rented the Makati house to the U.S. embassy, until one day, the embassy informed my dad that it would no longer be renting the house. At the time my father was stretched for money and decided to sell the Makati house. Each time, for some reason, the sale would fall through. Eventually, the real estate agent told my dad, “Mr. Meily, I’m not a religious man, but it’s really uncanny that something always happens whenever we try to sell this beautiful house. I think God has another plan for this house.”

Not long after, the plan unraveled … Dad finally gave up the idea of selling the house and, instead, had it rented. A year later, Dad died and we decided it was best for Mom to move to the house in Makati. It is less than half the size of our house in Loyola, but it would be more manageable, and a safer place for her to be.

Mom and I sat in the terrace and reminisced. Although Dad had to wade through an hour or more of traffic to get to his office in Manila and then spend the same amount of time to get home, he refused to move to the smaller house in Makati. He loved the sprawling front lawn and backyard of our Loyola home, Mom recalled.

“Where would I put my things, hija (daughter)?!” I remembered Dad groaning whenever I broached the subject of moving. How he worried about his papers and collection of magazines – Look, Life, Time, Newsweek, and yes, even Reader’s Digest!

For a while there Mom and I lamented about the house in Loyola. The buyer had torn it down and it is now the tallest condominium on that street. Perhaps it was for the best … We (and so many of our friends) have many happy memories of our time in Loyola Heights, but I think I would feel sadder if I passed by the house today and wondered who was sleeping in that large room, once occupied by four little girls. How about the boys’ room? I would wonder who was now browsing through the books lined in the gigantic bookcase in the study, and who was playing with the old turtle that had made our backyard pond its home.

“That house served us well. It was a good home,” said Mom. “Before we left I cleaned that house from top to bottom and left it spotless, even though I knew they were going to tear it down. Then I bade it good-bye and thanked it for being such a wonderful home for our family.”

I observed Mom walk across the living room, pass the dining room and kitchen, and head toward the hallway, which is just a few steps from her bedroom. I concluded, without a doubt in my mind, that all this was meant to be – the look, the feel of this house is almost identical to our house in Loyola. Best of all, it’s always felt like “home.”

They say there’s a reason for everything … It’s nice to know this house that Dad and Mom first built had a purpose from the beginning. It never sold because it was always meant to be “home.” I only hope old Mr. Turtle was able to walk away before the bulldozers leveled the house in Loyola …

A family gathering at the Makati home a few years after Mom moved there. It's so much like our home in Loyola. It is here where we now make happy memories.

A young Mom and Dad, newly married.

We have many happy memories of our house in Loyola Heights.

September 2, 2011 Posted by | Family, Life, Philippines | , , , | Leave a comment