September is jelly month at Helen Weigel's house.
That's when she makes it -- 200 jars at a time. And that was always when she entered it in the York Fair.
Weigel, now 79, was just 12 years old when her mother and grandmother first encouraged her to participate in the annual family ritual -- making jellies, jams and honey jelly.
Her memory of it is clear -- it was 1945, and her grandmother, Minnie Elicker, and mother, Anna Snelbecker, both long-time jelly makers in the Dover area, taught her the finer points of making pineapple honey.
What, you might ask, is pineapple honey? Good question. I'd never heard of it, either, and I've lived in York County my whole life.
Well, when it comes to jelly making, "honey spread" is nothing more than jelly made by substituting honey for refined sugar. Otherwise, Weigel said, it's pretty much the same process and ingredients.
As it turns out, the Elicker and Snelbecker families were good at it, the same as some people are good athletes, some are great at gardening, some people are wonderful cooks and some people are terrific working with wood.
This family was good at turning fruit into jelly. Anything that grows on bushes or trees was fair game to them.
And they decided it was time to pass on the family
tradition to Helen. Little did they know where that would lead.
Right from the start, grandma and mom thought Helen had a knack for making jelly. They intended to enter their own jelly creations that year in the York Fair, and they suggested she might want to do the same. She figured, "What the heck, why not."
A few days later she learned her entry was awarded the blue ribbon in the honeys category. Grandma and mom placed second and third that year.
That was it. Helen was hooked on jelly and honey spreads.
It was Helen's first blue ribbon, but it certainly wasn't her last. She didn't enter the York Fair again until 1951, the year she and Arthur Weigel got hitched. But once she got back into it, she was committed. She continued to enter her jellies and honeys in the fair every year until 2009 -- 59 straight years.
And she won ribbons every year. Count 'em -- 385 ribbons in all. Four grand prize ribbons, 203 first-place blue ribbons, 199 second-place red ribbons and 63 third-place yellow ribbons.
If that's not the most ribbons won by anyone in any category in the history of the York Fair, I'd like to know who's done better.
It's 60 years' worth of work and effort.
Helen's best year might have been 1997, when she won the Sure Jell Grand Prize, 10 blue ribbons, two red ribbons and two yellow ribbons.
Or, was it 1966, when she won
Or, could it have been 2002, when she won her fourth Grand Prize, 11 blue ribbons, four red ribbons and two yellow ribbons?
I'm thinking it was 2002. Hard to do better than that.
"Mostly we made jelly in our family for us to eat," Helen said. "There's always a jar of jelly on our table." I glanced over at her table, and sure enough there was a jar of jelly sitting on it.
"But once we made it," she said, "we figured we might as well enter it in the York Fair."
You might not know this, but 30, 40 or 50 years ago, you got free tickets to the fair if you entered something to be judged. It could be food, handmade articles of clothing or leather, photography, works of art, homemade furniture, farm crops, knitting -- all manner of things as long as they were created by one's own hand.
And if you won a ribbon, you were paid. Not much, but enough.
"We actually looked forward to the checks that came in the mail the week after the fair was over," she said. "When you had kids in the family, that money came in pretty handy."
So one year to the next, Helen made her jellies and honeys. One year it might be pineapple, the next peach. Or pear, plum, blueberry, grape, strawberry, apple or cherry.
"We'd make a set of six jellies, then a set of honeys, 20 in a set. Then we'd start over and do it again with another fruit. It depended on what we had available. But we always made sure we had pineapple," she said.
In recent years, Helen has had the assistance of her own daughter, Sherry Baldwin, who doesn't have nearly as much interest in jelly as the rest of the family did. "She never caught the bug," Helen said, "but she enjoys helping me out once a year. And it's something for us to do together."
Anyway, Sherry takes a day off work, and she and Helen spend one whole day cranking out 200 jars of jellies and honeys. "We have a system. It works pretty well," Helen said.
First they make the jelly; then they go to the York Fair.
The York Fair starts today; so it also must be jelly-making time at Helen's house.
The two seem to go together like, well, like peanut butter and jelly.
And it is September.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.