The Good Foods' Blog

The Grapes of Joy

This story is contributed by Sylvia Lovely, the “Story Doula”. Join us in the fall for Sylvia Lovely’s story-writing workshop, where YOU can learn to tell the stories of your life!

How about a recipe for homemade grape juice!

Quite simply, You pick ‘em, you mash ‘em, you simmer ‘em, you strain ‘em overnight, you strain ‘em again, and finally, enjoy the sweetest most delicious juice EVER! But there is one ingredient missing and if you can add it to the mix, your story will provide you another notch of wisdom. The joy of our “found” recipes from family members who wrote and lived them return to us not only in memories but in their practical application in our own kitchens for generations. They also provide lessons of life.In my case, it was remembrance of homemade grape juice that brought me a moment of joy. And like most stories, one story triggers another and on and on until we humans, being meaning making machines, have that ah-hah moment.
My parents were products of Kentucky poverty. Raised in the hollers of eastern Kentucky, they grew up with beauty all around but little in the way of material goods or opportunity. Living out the script of a Steinbeck novel, they packed up the old pick-up truck and headed north to Dayton, Ohio, at the time a mecca for Kentuckians seeking better lives.

And, like the old joke goes, “left their shoes at the Ohio River,” and returned again and again to West Liberty and to my grandparents’ red-shingled tiny house wedged in between two “hills” surrounded by woods lush with wildlife — including grapes.
Upon arrival, my brother and I would head for the cellar. It was a mysterious thing, that cellar. I remember being as scared of it as if descending into the burial chamber of the Great Pyramid. Were there bats, rats or worse? But as soon as we found our quarry, several quarts of homemade grape juice, we would carry a jar or two upstairs and enjoy cool, savory glassfuls. No one tried to stop us – we had as much as we wanted – all likely part of my grandmother’s plan from the beginning. We didn’t question the why and how of homemade grape juice – it was just there and the aim of our desire.

In late 2001, I took my mother in her final illness for what would be her last visit to the little red house – by then, long abandoned, the cellar overgrown and empty. My father sat up front with me; mother in the back. Watching in the mirror, I noted her intense gaze — no doubt reliving the memories of her own childhood in that same house. It is often the muscle memory of food that triggers our memories and joy. Was it homemade grape juice, the smell of sausage from the hog butchered in the fall to sustain the winter, biscuits? Alas, she left no written record of her memories. Being the human meaning making machine, I like to believe that they were triggered and brought her joy until her passing later that year and perhaps even beyond. That is, after all, what matters.
What are your food memories?