At the county extension service in the old downtown, I spent after-school hours in my mother’s office— the green-glass building next to the city farmers’ market held in the parking lot each week—the entrance lined with dark-stained oak cabinets, quarts of tomatoes, the perfectly suspended fruit-flesh in red liquid. Men holding Chinese food cartons of soil, like purses, from their gardens and farms. The soil needing to be fixed, the levels adjusted, they’d puzzle over results laid out like blueprints. My mother, a home economics agent, working upstairs in the demonstration hall and kitchen, the double-burner stove tops, the steaming silver pots. In her hairnet, a lab coat over her blazer and satin blouse. I sat in the chairs for the audience with my homework until she called me up to the platform to dip pH sticks to read the acid contents. I’d slip the skin off peaches, level tablespoons of salt for brines. My mother taught me each step: the maceration, the strawberry-rhubarb slurry heating to frothing, the sugar thermometer rising to the gelling temperature of precisely 220 degrees. My mother pouring the fruit into scalded jars, the room billowing with sweetness.
Copyright © 2017 Chanda Feldman. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Summer 2017.