Monday, July 15, 2013

Jammin' 2013

I did something during this last school year that I haven't had to do for years. Oh, no! I had to buy jam!  Always, every June (usually right around the Solstice but nowadays some weekday morning when it's not too hot, not too wet, not too buggy, and there's not too much traffic) we'd head north to Tewskbury to pick strawberries. Quarts upon quarts of strawberries. The pre-kid-days high was, if I recall correctly, 40 quarts. Of course "pre-kid-days" is code for "strawberry-margarita-days" so we were pretty invested in maximizing our take. Some swirled that same day in the multiple blenders (to keep the assembly line going) for the steady stream of thirsty visitors who somehow always rang the bell the afternoon after the morning spent strawberry picking. Some frozen whole for mid-winter strawberry margaritas, too. What seemed like a metric ton would be sorted, hulled, and simmered for jar upon jar of jam.

I am rather by nature unable to follow a recipe. A little tweek here, some nuts or white chocolate chips there, maybe a mix of grains instead of plain white flour for a loaf of multigrain sourdough bread. Look on any website, in any cookbook, and they all say the same thing: do not double a jam recipe, it will fail. Do not substitute ingredients, or your jam may not set. So I carefully pull out all the ingredients: the berries, the sugar, the pectin ... but I cannot stop my hand: berry jam with lime just sounds so much tastier than berry jam with lemon, don't you agree?

And every time I make jam I read and reread the instructions: 4 cups of berries: check; pectin: check; quarter cup of lemon lime juice: check; the last item on the list, sugar, always causes a double take. Every year it's the same thing: "No," I think to myself, "SEVEN cups? That can't be right." So I crosscheck other recipes and sure enough, the ratio of berry-to-sugar is right on target. Then too late I recall, "Oh, yeah, I remember reading that last year."

The scariest part of making jam the part that says, "Bring it to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, over high heat." So you're telling me to allllllllllmost let it boil over, but for the love of all that's holy, don't actually let it boil over or you'll be cleaning scorched fruit syrup off your stovetop until next jam season.

But the end result, in addition to the sticky film on every horizontal surface in the kitchen and a wooden spoon dyed a lovely shade of pink, makes the risk all worthwhile. We're set for school lunches, hopefully, until 96 is -- gulp -- in college. Then he's on his own for lunch.

Mixed Berry Jam
Strawberry, Raspberry & Blueberry

No comments:

Post a Comment