Tradition and Red Currant Jelly…not a writing post

And now for something completely different. For reasons unknown I’ve been thinking about traditions and how they get started as I’ve been writing the last book in the current series. Because of that, I thought it might be fun to share the biography of one personal tradition.

Every year in April my wife and I throw a party for a jar of jelly

It all started when a young man (me) went walkabout to the Arizona Renaissance Festival and needed someone to see that his apartment didn’t explode and that his cats stayed well-fed. The year was 1989. Many adventures were had by the lad on his walkabout, but that is not what this story is about. This is about his or, should I say, my, refrigerator.

Since I lived a hundred yards from both my parents and my grandmother, I’d never seen much point in using the kitchen of my apartment for anything other than storage. The oven was a convenient place to put the cat food bag, as the cats couldn’t open it, and it kept it out of my way. The cabinets were largely filled with strange artifacts (later identified as dishes by my wife-to-be) supplied by my parents and grandmother when I moved out. Actually, when they moved out and to two separate houses, but again, that’s another story. The refrigerator was a mystical place into which I would occasionally stuff a twelve pack of Mountain Dew, or a candle that had been melting in the sun.

None of this was really front-brain knowledge however, and when I went on my way to live in a tent in the middle of the desert I didn’t give so much as a passing thought to the functioning of my kitchen. For the friend, “CD,” who moved into my place as caretaker for the two months that I was gone however, the kitchen was a vitally important place, necessary to his survival.

So, one of the first things CD did after I left for parts south, was to go to a grocery store and stock up on food, which he then brought home and proceeded to put away. This turned out to be an adventure in itself, beginning when he opened the crisper. At some point in the distant past, I had been given a dragon candle. Slightly after that, it ended up in direct sunlight, softened, and folded in half. That was when I stuffed it into the crisper. Of course, it was already too late at that point, and all that I managed to do was create a multi-colored blob of wax, heavy on the purples and greens, and with a very odd topology.

Needless to say, CD, still foolishly possessed of the idea that if it was in the fridge, it had probably at one time been food, was deeply disturbed by this discovery. (I was unavailable for comment at the time, being somewhere in transit.) But after a while, he worked up his nerve, prodded the alien life form with a fork, and discovered that it was harmless. However, this experience made him very cautious when he approached the rest of the contents of the fridge, which turned out to consist of one never-opened jar of Red Currant Jelly that had expired some two years before his arrival.

When I finally returned from my wanderjar, CD naturally enough wanted to share the tale of his adventures in my apartment, and to question me about the candle (tucked away in a box in a cabinet-but still unidentified by him) and the jelly. After some careful inspection of the items in question and dusting off of old memories, I was able to identify the candle. But the jelly defied my powers of memory.

Or, at least, that is one explanation. However, since I have never in my entire life eaten red currant jelly, nor to my knowledge has it ever been a staple in my family’s household, I have darker suspicions. I tend to believe that it condensed out of the mysterious cosmic stuff of missing hangers and lost socks, and that it happened some time between when I left the house on my trip and when CD arrived a day later — and that it is possessed of inhuman and sinister motivations.

And so I have never opened it or discarded it (for fear that someone else might open it) and once a year (near the expiration date listed on the jar) we bring it out and throw a festival to appease it. This coming year will be the 20th annual red currant jelly party, marking the 22nd anniversary of its expiration.

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  1. 1. Mike Barker

    Thanks for the story of the red currant jelly — even if it isn’t a writing post. Although I do wonder why inhuman motivations must be sinister. It seems as though they might well be dexterous?

  2. 2. Katterley

    I. LOVE. THIS. POST. May you have a joyous festival.

  3. 3. C.E. Murphy

    This is *awesome*. :)

  4. 4. Kelly McCullough

    Mike, I don’t think all inhuman motivations are sinister, just the jelly’s. There’s a way it looks at you that just…brrr. ;-)

    Katterly, it’s pretty much always a blowout, though last year (when it hit legal drinking age) was special.

    C.E., thanks!

  5. 5. Joshua

    How very exciting.

    Have you attempted to communicate with it? It may have wisdom to share…

  6. 6. Alma Alexander

    I love this. Seriously. LOVE it.

    I now want the Universe to grant me a similar mysterious token of its having, er, taken notice of my existence at some point. I can’t believe I’m actually uttering this but I’m jealous of your jelly [grin]

    Happy festival!

  7. 7. Kelly McCullough

    Joshua, no we haven’t, perhaps this year when it’s sitting in its shrine we should attempt a series of experiments with lasers and shadow puppets.

    Alma, thanks! It’s a heavy responsibility, but not without certain cosmic compensations.

  8. 8. Tom Foster

    Kelly has other reasons to be suspicious of the red currant jelly. I too, in spite of my insane dedication to rationalism, fear the Jelly. I understand that size is no measure of danger, that a label without a warning is to be treated as suspect, and that evil pure and simple can be found in a fridge or a toaster or the space in between. Chocolate chips are good. I regret that I will miss another celebration with Kelly and The Jelly — OooHh I like the jelly.

  9. 9. Kelly McCullough

    Hey Tom, I’m sure the jelly missed you too. It’s hard to tell what it’s thinking though.

  10. 10. Joe Haefner

    Well, I will never again look at my currant bushes in the same way. Now I look with suspicion at their intermingling with the raspberries. We will have to watch that and hope that they do not co-mingle into some mutated form of jelly. God forbid that they discover the ginger on the hill. Nevertheless, at least I can claim some form of kinship with the jar of Red Currant Jelly. You can always bring the jar to our place and let it commune with its kin.


  11. 11. Coolwatyr

    I, too, love this story. Not just because of the sentient Jelly – though that made me giggle (and my family looked at me suspiciously). I was at that Ren faire and I think that’s just as cool.

    I hope the jelly event goes well.

    Wishing you Majick

  12. 12. Marjorie

    To appease the jelly you should probably serve roast lamb & mintsauce at it’s next festival.

    I wonder whether it was our failure to hold a personal festival which caused our 20 year old can of grapefruit to explode last year?

Author Information

Kelly McCullough

Kelly McCullough is a fantasy and science fiction author. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series—Penguin/ACE. His short fiction has appeared in numerous venues including Writers of the Future and Weird Tales. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star—part of an NSF-funded science curriculum—and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited—funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Visit site.



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