By Doris Schroeder
When our ancestors came to Kansas in the 1870s, it was mentioned they saw huge fields of prairie grass and very few trees. It does seem possible that the sandy hills located south of Buhler and east of Hutch already had the sand hill plum bushes that are so popular and native to the state of Kansas.
I know our ancestors started the wheat planting with seeds they brought with them from their country, it does seem like the sand hill plum bushes were already here. Since they grow well in the sand, and we do have some land in that category, they did well in that type of soil. The wheat did well in the richer soil, enough to make Kansas the “Breadbasket of the world!” The sand hill plums, which make a wonderful jam or jelly, was the perfect ingredient to put on top of the bread.
When I was four or five years old, I remember well our trips from Hutch to Buhler to visit my grandparents. Occasionally Dad would stop the Model A and he and Mom would pick a few sand hill plums on the side of the road on E. 30th. Mom would then cook them with some sugar and we would put it on her delicious homemade bread or German zwiebach. The trouble was, they never had a lot of time to pick very many so those treats were not a daily occurrence.
When my Dad’s parents moved off the farm in ‘39, we moved on the farm and grew the wheat for which Kansas is known. As a young girl, I became my Dad’s helper, checking the wheat planter, combine, and driving the tractor on our four years on the farm.
Dad had a hired hand that lived about a block West and a block or two North of 59th Ave. At that time it had a dirt road and in back of it was sandy soil which also had on it sand hill plum bushes. They told us of times they had tried to pick sand hill plums but had to be careful of rattlesnakes hiding in the brush.
For some reason, snakes are creatures I do not enjoy. Just to see one writhing along makes me want to scream and run for my life as I remember doing in the pasture on the farm. Consequently, I never had a desire to go sand hill plum picking.
But then I grew older…finished school, got married, we raised our family and then we retired. Hubby and I each found things that interested us so life would have meaning. I revived my joy of writing and John his love of gardening…and picking sand hill plums.
Of course, John needed a place to sell his produce and for some reason, enjoys going out in fields to pick the plums. We started selling at the Farmer’s Market in the summer and fall season.
We noticed that about every three or four years, the sand hill plums are very plentiful and John started to pick them whenever offered. At first we put them in cartons and sold them that way at the Market.
We observed, however, that many of the customers were reluctant to buy them and make sand hill plum jelly or jam as it is a lot of work. Consequently we started to make the jam out of some of them. I will tell you a secret…it IS a lot of work!
Of course, the summer of 2014 was a mammoth year for plums. Even though we sold a lot of cartons at the market, we ended up with a whole chest freezer full of bags of sand hill plums.
I will give you one guess as to what we are doing this winter in our spare time! Actually, I do think it is coming out of my ears. We have made 120 jars of it already and next week will hopefully finish around 60 or so more jars.
John does the most work on it, of course, by cooking it and pounding it. Later, I help him cook it with the sugar and pectin and putting it into the 8 oz. jam jars. You could even say “we are home at the range!”
We will be selling them at the Farmer’s Market located on West Second on Saturdays, starting in June. Just remember to be thankful we keep you “out of the jam!”
And…If anyone asks you what the state of Kansas is known for remember to tell them “We are the breadbasket of the world…which is scrumptiously frosted with Kansas sand hill plum jam!
God is so good to help us in our “older” youth to keep busy because we also get to visit with all you wonderful people
Doris welcomes your comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org