Riding my bike down the country road, I felt a warm breeze rush onto my face, a breeze that blew across the valley capturing a small hint of decayed leaves. In the distance, the sweet smell of wild forest grapes rose into the air and soon, without realizing just where I was, I happened upon my grandmother’s house.
In the driveway, my great-aunt had just arrived and was helping my grandmother load some empty reusable shopping bags into the car. The ticking sound of my bike wheels rose to their ears and the two of them turned. “We are heading out to see about some garage sales. Want to join us?” my grandmother said as she entered the back door of the car. “Here, you sit in the front and I will sit in the back,” she proclaimed. Before I could answer, she was already buckled in the back. “Head left, Dot,” my grandmother said and with that, we were off.
While we traveled, my grandmother pulled a cookie tin from her bag and handed my aunt and me each a cookie. “These cookies are fantastic,” I said as I chomped away. “They’re grape jammers,” she said, as she handed me a second. “Just saw a bunch of grapes on the side of the road heading to your house,” I dutifully told her. For a moment, she said nothing, and then as she often did, a trance-like state arose from her and with a full heart, her voice filled the car with a story.
For decades, the town of Donbridge had seen its share of disaster, villains and heroes. One of these, a misguided soul whom most of the town dubbed as neither friend nor foe, lived deep in the Willow Forest that surrounded the Great Swamp of Donbridge. Her reputation, as far as Donbridge legend tells, was plagued by stories of calamity. To all who never thought to seek her but happened upon her anyway, found that when they did, a curse of unpleasant proportions would befall them. Although her name was Angelica, the people of Donbridge named her the Wistress of the Forest, for her luck was that of the wind, never consistent and always around when you least expected it.
Angelica was raised by a medicine woman many years back and for whatever reason, no matter what the lesson, she seemed to only half understand the teaching, so when she performed the task at hand, she would tend to twist the plan ever so slightly to an abnormal conclusion. On one such occasion, she was instructed to mix elderberry juice and ginger root to help treat an illness and instead mixed blackberry brandy with ginger tea. The person she was treating became extremely inebriated and fell asleep for nearly a week. But luckily, the sleep did the patient well and soon he awoke cured.
On another occasion, Angelica was sent to help a farmer with his vegetable garden. He had an overabundance of aphids that were turning his pumpkin vines yellow. The medicine woman sent Angelica to the farmer with a tincture to sprinkle upon the leaves. The journey was to take a half day and so she had packed a lunch of milk and sourdough bread for Angelica. When she arrived, Angelica went to the farmer and handed him a bottle, telling him to feed it to his plants. Angelica stood there in the pumpkin field as the farmer poured the contents onto the plants. Feeling hungry, she decided to have her lunch while she watched. When she took a drink from what she thought was the milk bottle, she instantly spit the contents from her mouth all over the farmer and the pumpkin plants. For you see, the bottle was that of the tincture and the farmer had just fed the milk to his pumpkin plants. The fascinating end to this calamity was that Angelica actually spit the tincture onto the plants, killing the aphids and the farmer who fed the milk to the pumpkin plants ended up growing a pumpkin so large that it took three oxen to pull it from the field.
For years, stories like this surrounded the poor girl and soon she felt as if the world had turned on her. In her sadness, she isolated herself, enclosing her home in grapevines. In time, the vines overtook the forest. Soon folks who traveled the woods and smelled the sweet smell of grapes knew that the wistress was near and turned their direction, hoping to avoid catastrophe.
Years passed and the town of Donbridge was swallowed in a gale and with it the winds pushed rotted leaves into the air and into each water well. Soon the town’s water was poisoned, and the townsfolk fell ill. Even Midwife Sutton, who always seemed to cure the town from every disaster, was sick. While sick upon her bed in a delusional state, the midwife called upon her son and begged him to go to the woods and seek the wistress. Reluctant to follow her advice, he hesitated, but his inner self felt otherwise and soon he traversed the forest to find her.
Following the sweet smell of grapes, he happened upon a massive, vined vineyard and sitting upon a log was the wistress. He approached her and explained the tragedy that had befallen the Donbridgian people. The wistress felt the truth in the boy’s words, but time had created a hole in her heart and she was not ready to leave her confines. The boy left feeling defeated, looking back at the wistress who did nothing but tend to her fire.
That evening as the wistress slept, the medicine woman who trained her appeared before her. She held the wistress’s hand and in it she lay a lump of coal, smiled and vanished. The wistress awoke from her sleep. The hollowed moon shone brightly over the night sky. She rose to her feet and went to her cave, gathering supplies and a hooded cloak. She felt her soul guiding her to finally get something right.
The next morning, every person in Donbridge awoke and not one was ill. On each door hung a grapevine wreath and upon each well hung a wreath. The midwife who had been sick rose from her bed and went to her well as she was curious if the water was now treated. She pulled a pail from the depths of the well. The water was clear and appeared free of poison. “It’s a miracle,” the midwife’s son proclaimed. The midwife just looked at him and smiled back. “It’s the wistress and she is a miracle enough for me.” From there on, the town never forgot the wistress and held her memory as each house proudly hung a grapevine wreath remembering just what she did.
When my grandmother finished her story, we pulled into the driveway of a residence that was having a garage sale. As we looked upon the items over numerous tables, I looked up and saw a grapevine wreath hanging from the resident’s door. “Excuse me, ma’am,” I said to the owner of the home. “Just why do you hang that wreath there?” The woman smiled for a moment and then looked up. “Well, it’s pretty, and frankly it’s the best way I can thank the wistress,” she said as she walked up to help a customer. And then like the wind in the air, the woman vanished as if I had never spoken to her. I looked for my grandmother who never once noticed what had just occurred, like it was always meant to be.
Grandma’s Grape Jelly Nut Jammers
3/4 cup of unsalted butter
1/2 cup of sugar
1 3/4 cups of almond flour or all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of chopped pecans
1 cup of grape jelly
Excluding the grape jelly and chopped pecans, mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. Grease a cookie sheet. Pour finely chopped pecans on a wax sheet of paper and spread them out. Roll the dough into balls and then roll them in the chopped pecans. Place each rolled dough ball onto the cookie sheet. Next press your thumb into the middle of each cookie dough ball. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove cookies from the fridge and fill each thumb print with grape jelly. Bake until edges of cookies are brown, which will take about 10 minutes. Remove cookies and let them cool.