How a Jar of Jelly Can Bring Back Memories

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comFew things in life live up to their memories the second time around.

For instance, we always look forward to going to the beach but forget how unpleasant it is to have sand here, there and everywhere.

Or, we go back and watch an old funny movie we loved as kids only to be disappointed at how its humor didn’t stand the test of time.

It seems our minds have a way of romanticizing events more and more as they slip further and further into the past. The “good old days” we always talk about probably weren’t as good as we remember them. Maybe we simply choose to remember the good parts. Maybe it’s scientific. I don’t know.

When I was a child, I had a great aunt Dena I loved dearly. She lived in a tiny frame house in a little community called Bunker Hill in Giles County, Tenn. She was never married.

We would visit her every other Sunday afternoon without fail. Also without fail, she would have me a grape Nehi in the refrigerator. The fridge was always my first stop.

In the winters, we would sit inside around her coal-burning fireplace in her living room. In summer, we would sit out under a shade tree.

She lived next to a creek which was fed in part by a cave behind her house. I would fish or wade in the creek wearing last year’s tennis shoes with the toes cut out of them. Sometimes I would explore in the cave or dig around looking for arrowheads. It was a pretty magical place for a 6-year-old.

On rare occasions, I would spend Saturday nights with Aunt Dena. She had a friend who would walk down to watch The Red Skelton Show with us. We would make popcorn and watch TV in the dark.

I’m glad she never heard the old wives’ tale about how doing that would ruin your eyes, because it was special for some reason.

On Sunday morning, Aunt Dena would get up early and cook lunch which probably consisted of butter beans, mashed potatoes and chicken. When it was finished, she would turn off the stove eyes and oven, leaving the pots and pans in place. We would walk to the Methodist Church.

After church we would eat lunch, which had cooled significantly while we were gone. But that’s how we ate it, and it was the best food on earth.

Aunt Dena was a master jelly maker. Blackberries were plentiful back then, and she would make pint after pint of blackberry jam. That was everyone’s favorite – except for me. Even then I had to be just a little bit different.

I loved her plum jelly even more because it had a distinct tartness to it which added a layer to the sweet plum taste. No one could make it like she could.

She always gave us some to take home, so we perpetually had a jar going in the refrigerator. Every time we ate it, someone would say, “It’s plum good,” and everyone would laugh like that was the first time we had heard it. (At least that’s how I remember it.)

Fast forward 45 years or so.

We have a farmer’s market every Thursday afternoon under the big trees at The Old Woolen Mill, in Cleveland, Tenn., where Kim’s gallery and my office are.

One of the farmers sells plums. He also sells plum jelly.

I told him I wanted one, hoping not to be disappointed.

“Do you want yellow or red?”

“What’s the difference?”

“The red is more tart, and the yellow –”

“Say no more. I’ll take the red.”

Once I opened it, I finished it off in a few days.

It was good. In fact, it was plum good. And it brought back lots of good memories which made it even better.

Sarge’s Shack in Pulaski, Tennessee

good grub logoSarge’s Shack has been an institution in Giles County, Tennessee, for many years.

We tried it last Friday night for the first time in a long, long time. The place started filling up at 4 p.m., and stayed that way until dark. (We were staying just across the road.) When we got there, we were seated immediately, though. We wanted a booth, but the hostess wouldn’t let us have the vacant one. She said she had just seated that section and she had to rotate. After we were seated at a table — which was near the hostess stand — we heard one of the servers explaining to the hostess that if customers ask for a booth that is vacant, they get the booth. It’s not her fault. She should’ve been taught that during her training.

The salads were fresh, and probably a bit larger than I was expecting. The steak was cooked as ordered and tasty, but not out of this world. The treat, however, is Sarge’s Rice. You can google recipes to copy it, but you will never have it as good as it is there. The main ingredient besides rice is Dale’s seasoning, according to the recipes I found. It is delicious in a buttery, salty, sinful kind of way. And they pile about a pound of it on each plate.

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Sarge’s also serves whole catfish — which is the only way catfish should ever be served. I cannot vouch whether it’s good or not. If you happen to know, comment and tell the world.

Sarge’s is a come-as-you-are type of place. It’s tucked away in the beautiful countryside just off of Interstate 65 at Exit 14. The food won’t change your life, but for the price it’s a pretty good meal.

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