Sunday, August 3, 2008
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.