Remembering the love and wisdom of Grace Underwood Moore.
My sister Leith and I are constantly asked, "Where did you learn this?" We happily and quickly respond, "It's in our DNA."
Our mother was a force to be reckoned with. Always ahead of the curve and always 'out of the box!'
Grace Underwood Moore 1950, Dover Hall Plantation
She found bridge club pedantic but was the head witch at garden club! While she directed flower shows with Swiss watch precision, she always threw spice in the pot. Her little South Georgia club was one of the first in the nation to create an entry for children. Never structured, the kiddos' floral compositions were reflections of growing personalities. To this day, there are men and women across the South who savor the love of flowers and gardening because of Grace Underwood Moore and her loving patience.
It is apt that one of my earliest memories in life was preparing and attending a winter flower show. I was almost three, and my mother and I filled white shirt box lids with damp Spanish moss, then lovingly went into the garden and snipped short stems of specimen Camellia japonicas and tightly nestled them in the moss bed, "but not too tight, my little garden boy." Off they traveled in the back of the station wagon to the Methodist Church social hall to be displayed with hundreds of other curated beauties. My mother got a red second place ribbon for her "Pink Perfection and Betty Sheffield" flower heads. I remember her congratulating Ann Jackson on her blue ribbon. Forever, I will remember that. My mother was a gracious gardener.
That winter was huge for me. A few weeks before, mother and I went to Lott's 5&10 and filled baskets with the most wonderful toys, brushes, combs, balls and puzzles. Of course, "for me?" was the question. Mr. Lott lifted me up on a counter so I could see my mother's eyes. It was explained to me that not every little boy and girl have Christmas presents under a tree. And that it is a God-given gift to make Christmas memorable for others.
That same Christmas, there was a decorated shoebox at the hearth filled with oranges, walnuts, apples and 'feed and seed store' old-fashioned candy. It was a subtle reminder that not everyone was as lucky as I. For so many, a shoebox of fruit, nuts and candy was 'the' Christmas gift. I always made sure that I enjoyed the oranges et al. And when Leith was born five years later, the tradition continued.
We grew up in the post-war era of Gemini space missions and TV dinners. I always loved to 'spend the night' with friends so I could savor a Salisbury steak in an aluminum foil tray! Not something we enjoyed at home. Fresh from the garden was the order of the day for our mother. And in winter, it was a treat for Mama to pull butter beans and cut off corn from the freezer and take us back to warm summer days. She was a country cook but adventurous. Fresh herbs were added to the mix. One summer, we had an abundance of cinnamon basil, and we made jelly. It was perfection as a condiment with chicken or pork.
I look back red-faced that I dreaded friends from school coming to visit. In town, my friends' houses were bandboxes furnished with shiny Ethan Allen reproductions. My friend William once said to me that he was sorry that we had “poor people furniture” - walnut corner cupboards, pine huntboards, a cypress farm table where meals were served.
In summer, all the antique wing chairs and other soft seating were slipcovered with the same cotton duck that the dogs' beds were made.
There were always big ironstone pitchers in winter filled with forced honeysuckle and forsythia. In spring, a favorite pastime was hunting for violets. We would wander all over in search, and when a violet was discovered, we would point a finger and say, "bang!" I have loved teaching my nieces and great-nieces the gentle art of violet picking.
On Mother's Day, as every day, I am so thankful for the lessons and gifts that I use to make my life as a gardener and a human complete. This Mother's Day, I'd like to share a little bit of Mama's magic with her cinnamon basil jelly recipe.
4 cups water
2 cups firmly packed fresh cinnamon basil leaves, finely chopped
1 package (1-3/4 ounces) powdered fruit pectin
5 cups sugar
In a large saucepan, bring water and basil to a boil. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 10 minutes. Strain and discard basil. Return 3-2/3 cups liquid to the pan. Stir in pectin. Return to a rolling boil over high heat. Stir in sugar. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; skim off foam.
Ladle hot liquid into hot half-pint jars, leaving 1/4-in. headspace. Wipe rims. Center lids on jars; screw on bands until fingertip tight.
Place jars into canner with simmering water, ensuring that they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil; process for 15 minutes. Remove jars and cool.