One of my New Year’s resolutions is to maintain some traditions

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to maintain some traditions in the midst of all the change we’re facing. Change can be good — but so can holding on to some of the past and its anchor to people and places we love.

In our practice of remembering people and places we love, we had pink applesauce and collards for New Year’s Day dinner this week, a Fetzer family New Year’s Day tradition. Well, at least the pink applesauce is a Fetzer family tradition. The collards, me being a Yankee, only became a New Year’s Day Fetzer family tradition when I was became lucky enough to marry a North Carolina girl and move to North Carolina.

But the pink applesauce comes from my northern proclivity and shapes a fond childhood recollection of my paternal grandmother, Mary Fetzer of Bedford, Ohio. Even today, 55 years later, I have vivid memories of her bright green-painted basement shelves laden with home-canned quart glass jars of the spicy, sweet, colorful sauce. We called the sauce then — and still call it now — gramma’s good ol’ pink applesauce.

Unfortunately, when Mary died in the late 1970s, I had been too young and self-absorbed to look much beyond what was happening in my own life and never thought to ask her questions about her own life and times and her recipe for pink applesauce. Still, I had great memories of visiting gramma on snowy holidays in the mid-1960s, hungrily asking for third helpings of her pink applesauce served hot along with her turkey and stuffing, a perfectly sweet-salty culinary combination.

When I got older and starting caring about family history and recalled my fondness for gramma’s good ol’ pink applesauce, I experimented with home-canning pink applesauce myself, using my mom’s recollection of her mother-in-law’s recipe. This experiment turned into the Fetzer New Year’s Day pink applesauce tradition.

Over a period of four days during our just completed holidays, that North Carolina girl I mentioned — and although it represents my northern proclivity — she patiently cored and pared about three bushels of apples. And then in a long, eight-hour day we cooked three bushels of apples, then we crushed the cooked apples into applesauce using an old, hand-cranked sieve, then we cooked the applesauce with the spices and the secret ingredient that sweetens it just a little and gives it its pink color, and then we finally canned and boiling water-processed 30 quarts of pink applesauce.

Though it’s a laborious, multi-day, process to home-can pink applesauce, it’s a loving tradition in honor of my grandmother and one I resolve to maintain. And doing so not only offers warm memories of my grandmother, but it also provides appreciation for this kind of labor that was once common before commercially-available canned (but less loving) conveniences removed home-canning from the ponderous list of women’s work.

As for the collards, in the New Year’s tradition of honoring the place we love — eastern North Carolina — I went out looking on New Year’s Eve for collards, preferring to buy them from a small, local grower instead of from a chain grocery store. Plus a hard frost last week would have sweetened the collards, so fresh out of the field would be best.

A “Collards for Sale” sign just around the corner from where we live beckoned, so I drove along the long, dirt road to a small patch of collards. There was an old trailer down the road and a hand-lettered sign hung from the fence with the message, “Collards $2 a bunch.” Next to the sign was hung a small pruning shear needed to cut the collards’ stalks.

No one came out, so I backed the car up to the trailer and a lady peaked out from a screen door. She could take the collard money for her son, she said, so I paid her for two bunches, drove the car back to the collard patch and cut two giant heads with the shears, overwhelming the trunk of the car with them.

Like home-canned applesauce, preparing fresh collards for cooking is a laborious effort, my North Carolina girl again leading the charge. She spent more than three hours slicing what turned out to be about four pounds of sliced collard leaves after I cut the leaves from the stalks and rinsed them.

Still, just like our pink applesauce tradition focused on honoring Mary Fetzer, we keep our New Year’s Day collards custom to celebrate our love of eastern North Carolina. Amidst all the changes we face, I resolve in 2017 to maintain those traditions that anchor us to people and places we love.

Maybe love — at their base — is what New Year’s resolutions are really about anyway. Happy New Year!

Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at fetzerab@ec.rr.com.