Last week quince jelly was calling me. I could see its rich, translucent amber color. It’s been years since I have tasted its sweetness. Today I tracked down a jar of this delectable treat in the ‘gourmet’ section of a local grocery store. It was the last one on the shelf and it was on sale. Apparently there are other folks who also fancy this delightful jelly. I had never read the ingredients on one of these jars before …. Sugar came in second. Aah yes, no wonder.
For now my favorite combo is a piece of well toasted whole wheat bread slathered with cream cheese and quince jelly. Almond butter comes in second followed by ghee. I am still waiting to try a combo with brie cheese on a cracker… drool.
This seemingly out of the blue yen for quince jelly brought forth memories of my grandmother.
She was English, a lady, the Honourable Fanny L. Vernon. Born in 1886, she came from an aristocratic world that I, her granddaughter born in the United States in 1950 and raised in Mexico, would only know through stories, books and movies.
To my siblings and me she was Granny.
She was my mom’s mother, the only grandparent I knew.
She moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico in the mid 1950’s a few years before my parents, my sister and I moved to Mexico City.
I can see her as clearly as if she were right here.
Her hair was white and soft like a cloud, her watery eyes bright blue like the sky.
Her face was lined with wrinkles that tracked time,
Her voice low pitched and deep sounding.
Her hands, with their delicate fingers and manicured nails trembled a bit.
The index and middle finger of her right hand were tainted yellow from decades of holding her Filtron cigarettes, the only ones she liked.
She chain smoked but didn’t inhale. Maybe that did count for something since she lived to be nearly ninety. Smoking her cigarettes less than half way down, she didn’t like the taste after that, she would puff out small clouds of grayish blue smoke. The ashtray nearby was continuously crammed with half smoked cigarette butts. Sometimes she would be holding one while another one, still lit and forgotten for the moment, lay waiting in the ashtray.
She was fluent in English and French and held her own in Spanish.
She was portly, as some would describe her, and wore light, loose fitting cotton dresses with paisley designs. I remember the blue and black ones.
Comfortable comes to mind when I think of Granny. Sitting in her comfy armchair on the terrace doing the Sunday crossword puzzle with my mother, or in the living room facing a card table where she would read or play solitaire for hours. When we stayed at her house my father would join her. He would play long complex solitaire games and she would watch, mostly in silence.
Granny loved food, especially the sweet kind. Years before she moved to Mexico, before the war, her meals had been prepared by a French chef. We always ate well and abundantly at her house. She liked a glass of whisky before dinner.
Memories of warm winter days at her house in Cuernavaca where we celebrated every Christmas, the same tree being recycled up from the garage. I would hang out by the pool beneath the long branches of the tabachin tree, and play ping pong with my dad, sister and family friends. Every year my father spent several months in Europe. While there he would stop by Harrods in London and pick up a plum pudding to bring home for Christmas dinner at Granny’s. The pudding, soaked in brandy, was brought to the table and lit. I never acquired a taste for this desert but I loved watching the blue flame engulf it for a brief moment. Food on fire, how cool that was!
In the garden outside the dining room were three or four large bird cages. They stood tall on their stands with wheels. At night they were covered and rolled into the dining room. Such an odd sight when I look back on this scene of us sitting around the table with these large covered silent cages lining one side of the room.
I see Granny walking out after lunch, carrying small pieces of fruit to the birds. She would go to each one and lean towards them. I hear her talking to them softly in her deep raspy voice. Who is the pretty one? Oh yes, who is the pretty one? As if she were in some kind of gentle trance with them. I remember a ‘clarin‘ and a ‘jilguero‘. Tropical birds, their beautiful song was heard throughout the garden most of the day. I wouldn’t want to have caged birds today, and yet these are some of my most precious memories of Granny.
Sweet memories, the pleasant ones that bring up images of a gentle river flowing over rocks made smooth with time. The serenity of being with these memories, and allowing the other ones, the ones with sharp edges to slip into the background.
Granny died in 1976.
Merry Christmas Granny