Sunday, August 3, 2008

Jam Days

I love that small piece of traditional domesticity: jam making.
I love the fresh summer fruits ripened in their natural season.
And I love the taste of summer on my winter morning toast.

This summer I went on my third annual trip to a berry farm which offers apick-it-yourself option, and smiling families were doing just that. I opted for the short cut and bought plump luscious raspberries and boysenberries harvested that morning, at a fraction of the going prices.

Jam making was a happy annual summer feature of my childhood. Children helped pick and prepare the fruit then were hushed out of the way when the pans of bubbling jam were moved off the stove and the "Hot! Hot!" fruit was ladled into "Hot! Hot!" jam pots sterilized with boiling water.

We hung around the kitchen door waiting to be allowed back in for the treat we anticipated: slices of buttered bread spread with the warm skimmed jam foam, washed down with a glass of milk. I especially relished apricots and "les quatre fruits", a combo of strawberries, raspberries, dark plums and cherries. Just divine!

We ate outside while the last dangerous step was completed: melting wax. Year after year, the hardened wax covers were levered up from jam pot with the vegetable knife then washed, dried, and stored till the following summer. Highly flammable, the wax had to be watched every instant lest it self ignite, set fire to the kitchen, "and burn us all to death". Once it reached the critical melting point, a long handled sauce ladle scooped up just the right amount of wax to cover the hissing jam.

After the wax had somewhat cooled, using the point of the same vegetable knife, my mother carved in the name of the fruit and the date. The cooled jam was shelved in a dark heavily carved Flemish cabinet alongside tall jars of preserved green and yellow beans, ratatouille, halved peaches or apricots with a stick of cinnamon, and cherries in sugar and alcohol slowly turning into cherry brandy.

I carried on the tradition with my own young family for many years when our garden produced large amounts of fruit and vegetables. Today, I make jam purely for pleasure, for the memories evoked by the aroma of the fruit, the sticky counters, and my mother's ladle.


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I'll make the bisquits, you make the jam! What a feast we would have!

I took your suggestion and picked up a copy of The Perfect Summer by Nicolson. Looking forward to reading it!

Happy Monday!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I mean, biscuits.

Kate G. said...

Thanks for bringing back memories of my Irish great aunts, who made jam and the bread to spread it on!

Cote de Texas said...

Thanks for the comment - trust me - there is nothing hiding under the skirted tables!!!! hahah!!!


Nathalie said...

Home made jam is also part of my family's history and I could have nothing else for breakfast. My grand-mother made her own and so does my mother, still from the same garden fruit - raspberries, gooseberries and blackberries essentially, and plums too (mirabelles).
I make my own from whatever fruit I can lay my hands on - this year it was cherries, apricots and plums picked in orchards after the official picking had taken place.

Jojo said...

We always made jellies and preserves though I haven't made any in years. As an adult isn't it funny how you learn to enjoy the process as much as you enjoy the end result? Growing up blackberry jelly and jam was a favorite but when it came time to go pick berries I hated it! We would have to get up at 6 on a Saturday to pick the berries early so we could start the jelly-making. There were plenty of thorns and here in Georgia we also had chiggers and snakes to worry about. My dad had a rule that we couldn't eat a single berry until we got home. Of course I can still close my eyes and think about the jelly cooking. I can still smell the fantastic smell of all those blackberries. What a great memory you shared!

Françoise said...

Thank you for all your comments and shared jam memories.
Natalie, I wish I could find good jam plums here in Oregon. I loved the Reine Claude variety - called greengage in the UK - but have never seen them in the States.
I have lots of red currants but came home this year after a three-day heat wave and they had literally dried on the bushes!
Jojo , your story reminded me of the father of a friend who sent his kids up the cherry tree and demanded that they whistle non-stop, another way to prevent fruit tasting!

Françoise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Françoise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barbara said...

I love homemade jam. I don't make it so much now the children have left home.