Down Southern Roads
During this period of isolation, sometimes it’s good to just get out of the house and go for a drive in the country. You might even run into some Strawberry Rhubarb Jam! When I get off the interstate and follow the fence line out into the countryside, I look for old farms that have been in families for generations. St. Helena Island, just a short distance over the bridge from Beaufort, has many farms and places to explore and the people, well, the only thing I can say is there are some endlessly fascinating characters. The island has the largest Gullah population of any place along the coast – a proud people with a heritage they are struggling to maintain.
Dempsey Farms isn’t Gullah but it’s been there for as far back as most of us can remember. It’s legendary.
Time has tested its tin roofs and the scorch of the South Carolina sun has weathered the wooden barns and outbuildings. Some stand but teeter a bit, resting on stone foundations that were constructed many, many years ago, not with plans executed by architects but with just whatever materials were on hand. Timber may be rotting now but they stand stronger than the eye can see.
For these buildings were constructed by men from an era when men were as strong and steadfast as the underpinnings of concrete and brick in their buildings.
The wind blew strong this day of my visit – tired timbers moaned and groaned in the wind as pieces of metal roofing barely hung on.
At the front of the property, an ancient live oak stands guard over the earth, providing shade and solace for all who enter this place. I step back from it and look up and imagine how it has witnessed hurricanes, torrential rains, and parching droughts.
Now, day after day families come here to pick strawberries in the acres of fields. I watch as children are laughing and eating berries as fast as they can pick them – something that has never changed over time. Somehow my soul is nurtured by the appearance of normalcy in a life that has been turned upside down. Finally, here is something that has been constant for generations. I feel renewed.
A Place for Making Memories
My granddaughter, Margaret Virginia ate her first strawberries in this field, just as her mother did so many years ago. It’s a family tradition. Her great grandmother, Virginia Louise, once gathered berries here and sealed them into jars of strawberry rhubarb jam.
Tons of fertile soil have been turned again and again to face the torrid sun and time. Each season crops of tomatoes, strawberries, watermelons, cucumbers, and peppers, have been planted with great faith and promise and harvested with love and hope.
Pieces of abandoned machinery, a truck, and a disabled tractor dot the landscape rusting into the good earth below.
Ravenous weeds and jungles of pokeweed grow up about them providing cover for quail and other creatures of the wild. Even amongst rust and decay, signs of life carry on.
There is something so simple, yet so very gratifying about coming here, walking through the fields and picking berries off the vine. Picking buckets are provided. The connections between our food, the sun and soil, the sweet smell of the earth, the scent of salt air, and the sounds of songbirds renews the human spirit.
The Dempseys, just like other farmers down the road, have fought battles here – men on tractors in their bib overalls and wide-brimmed hats have year after year waged war against the elements of mother nature. I feel their struggles and their successes that come and go with the seasons. These farmers are our heroes whose labor goes largely unnoticed to passersby. Let’s give thanks to each and every one of them.
This story would never be complete unless I included my mother’s recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Jam.
To prepare your jars for canning, you may first sanitize them in your dishwasher or sink. Now, heat your oven to 250 degrees and place your jars and lids in a pan and allow them to stay in the oven for at least 10 minutes or until ready to fill.
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
Wake up this fall to the smell of homemade biscuits slathered with homemade jam and sizzling bacon.
1-quart ripe strawberries
1 1/2 pounds fully ripe rhubarb
1/2 cup sugar
1 box fruit pectin
1/2 teaspoon butter
1 vanilla bean, scraped
juice of 1 lemon
6 cups sugar, measured in a separate bowl
Prepare berries by removing stems and cutting them in half. Crush them until crushed but chunky, by using a potato masher. Measure exactly 2 1/4 cups prepared strawberries into an 8-quart stockpot. Finely chop unpeeled rhubarb. Place in a saucepan. Stir in water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat and cover. Simmer for several minutes until rhubarb is tender. Measure 1 3/4 cups prepared rhubarb into the saucepot with the berries and mix well. Stir in the juice of 1 lemon. This is an important step because pectin needs acid to set correctly.
Mix sugar into prepared fruit mixture. Add butter and stir. Bring to a full boil on high heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Stir in pectin. Return to a full boil and boil for 1 minute only, stirring constantly. The cooking begins to break down pectin. ( check with package directions) Remove from heat and skim off any foam.
Ladle at once into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of the top. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with 2 piece lids. Screw tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in the canner. Lower rack into canner. Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if needed. Cover and. bring water to a gentle boil. Process 10 minutes.
Remove jars and place upright on a towel to cool. Check scale by pressing middle of lid with your finger. If the lid springs back, the lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.
Be sure to date your jars.