Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gathering Nuts -- Montgomery County, Late 1940's

It was a sun-dazzled late autumn afternoon, much like today. We don't know the exact date, but the photos may have been taken the year Mom and Dad were married (1946); if so, it was probably not more than six weeks after their wedding. Mom and Dad enclose the rest of the party like bookends: Mom in a pinkish skirt and sweater set, and Dad in a blue shirt or sweater, frozen in the act of tossing a stick at the tree branches to shake down a few more nuts.

This is the only slide in the series where I can positively identify each of the figures. Moving right from Mom, we see Dad's sister Doris, Grandma Minnie, and sisters Charlotte and Margaret. I can hear their voices as clearly as if I had been there that day  --  Grandma Minnie exclaiming, "Land sakes, Bill, don't hit your sister with that stick!"

Mom stands a little apart from the family group, perhaps still a bit shy with her new sisters-in-law, or perhaps simply not dressed for the occasion, not having known that the visit to the in-laws would include an excursion to the countryside to gather nuts. Otherwise, why the pink skirt and high heels? I'm sure she wanted to make a good impression on Dad's sisters.

Just as the figures in the photos are frozen in mid-gesture, the sunny afternoon in central New York seems congealed in time, at the cusp of the changing seasons and times. It was like that moment when the sun tinges the treetops with gold just before it makes its way over the rooftops to bathe the entire landscape in light.

In history, this moment was the pause after World War II, when horror gave way to hope, the GI's came home, and reconstruction was about to begin in Europe. The returning soldiers would fuel not only an economic boom, but a baby boom as well. The babies born that year are now in their sixties and collecting Social Security.

Today we turned the clocks back one hour ("Spring ahead, fall back"), to return to Standard Time from Daylight Savings Time.

But we can't really turn the clock back, certainly not to that autumn afternoon of 65 years ago. We can only look back and ponder with hindsight at time's relentless march, and at what we know now that the figures on that idyllic afternoon didn't know: a creeping mass of frigid air known as the Cold War would dampen spirits for the next few decades in spite of the hopefulness of the present moment.

And what would the family do with the nuts they gathered that day? It is difficult to tell what kind of nuts they were, perhaps chestnuts for a Thanksgiving stuffing recipe, or maybe some other variety that Minnie would use in one of her recipes for fruit conserves.

I have not attempted any of these recipes yet; they call for enormous quantities of fruit and sugar, but curiously no pectin such as we would expect as a thickening agent in a modern recipe for jam or jelly. The fruits used may naturally contain a certain amount of pectin, which may also be the reason for the inclusion of the grated orange rind. The purplish blots on the paper indicate that Minnie must have used at least one of the recipes and dripped a few drops of the fruit mixture while testing whether it had jelled or not.

If any reader tries one of the recipes, please let me know how it turned out!

Thank you to Margriet W. for scanning these slides.

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