Eight glass jars

Today, a small bit of bravery, in the form of eight glass jars. Seven wholly filled, one halfway so.

Today, a small bit of bravery, in taking a small step and learning something new. The jars are filled with strawberry jam; the homemade kind that contains only three ingredients: strawberries, sugar, and enough pectin to make the first two ingredients hold together. I am a mere shadow of my grandmother—this, a frail and feeble attempt at preserving a stunning batch of strawberries, pales in comparison to the food preservation she did out of necessity. I wonder if she would cheer that I am learning such a basic skill or if she would feel somewhat disgusted that I am making a mockery of what was once, before, a basic skill for living.

The strawberries were beautiful: a deep, lush red, skins taut and shiny. After stemming them, a quick halving showed their true quality, a deepness of color that extended all the way to the core of the berry. No cream-colored, store-boughten, unripened strawberries, here. These spent a long time on the vine and were picked and packed carefully.

They were a dollar more a quart. At the end of the process, my red-stained hands stood as testament to what that extra dollar per quart gave me.

In the end, I was a little disappointed in the ease of the preservation process. Jam is remarkably simple; the magic lies in the proportions. Take the best berries you can find. Stem them and cut off any undesirable parts. Grab your trusty potato masher and crush the berries until the chunks are to the consistency you want. Continue this process until you have five cups of crushed berries.

Measure out seven cups of white sugar and have it ready.

Add a package of pectin to the berry mixture, and bring this to a full rolling boil. Add the sugar and stir furiously. Bring it back to a full rolling boil and hold it there for one minute, no longer. Pull the pan off of the heat, skim off as much foam as you can, and start ladling the jam into the prepared cans. Seal them quickly, invert them for five minutes, and then set them upright and let the cans cool for 24 hours. Any lids whose seal pops up didn't seal properly and need to be eaten quickly; the rest will keep.

Seems so simple, doesn't it? It surprises me that a process that held so much mystique when I was a child turns out to be so simple.

This evening I came back in to the kitchen every now and then to run my fingers over the jars. Mostly to marvel at their reality. I'm always like this when I learn or do something new; I'm utterly fascinated by the results.

My mind now turns to the thought of repeat performances: there will be other delights of early summer coming soon to the farmer's market. Peaches, cherries, blackberries, blueberries. I could do a batch of each, and those would make fabulous presents for certain of my friends who appreciate this sort of thing. I've always favored presents that have more to do with thought than money, and this qualifies mightily.

After all, if you trust someone not to give you botulism, that's saying something right there.

Jeff and I will probably open up the half-can of strawberry preserves first, just to see what they taste like. After filling the jars and emptying the pan, I swiped a stray finger through the remains to pick up a quick taste. I compared it to the taste of the original strawberries. Thicker, stronger, more strawberry.

I have to think that maybe, just maybe, my grandmother would be pleased.

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