Monday, May 25, 2009

Jam….a family heritage

Yes, I make jam.  Yes, I could buy it cheaper in the store.  I do buy my grape jelly at the store, mainly because I don’t have access to enough grapes to make jelly.  But I enjoy making my own jam.  And my family and friends love it when I do and they get to eat the results.  I will brag and say I’ve won a few ribbons, both in Texas and North Carolina at the fairs for my jams and jellies.

Is it brain surgery?  No.  Can anyone do it? Yes.  Why don’t they?  Beats me.

My “jam making season” starts in April/May with the strawberries.  I am completely out this year, so will make 2-3 batches to stock up for awhile.  Texter is my main fan and roots for her favorites and will help out to a certain extent.  Her favorite job… testing the batch once it’s cooled some to be sure it tastes right.

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Then comes peach preserves.  And if I can get my hands on them, pears for pear honey and preserves.  I’ve been known to make blackberry jam, blueberry jam, raspberry jam, apricot and cherry jam.  But not often.  Our favorites, the old standbys, are strawberry and peach.

The whole process is soothing and ritualistic to me.  You get out the jars emptied over the past year.  Get new lids and make sure you have enough lids in the right size for all the jars you are using.  The dutch oven comes out.  Lots of hot water.  Extra towels.  The heavy wooden spoon, stained from past years of jelly making.  A bowl to measure the sugar in.  The potato masher to “squish” the fruit.

My mother (and dad) makes jam.  Both my grandmothers made jam.  One of the best memories I have of my dad’s mother is making grape jelly.  They had a grape arbor and every year made jelly.  I remember the huge bags of grapes they would tie to the rafters of the workshop and let drip juice into buckets.  The smell in there was heavenly.  Some of the juice would be left as grape juice and bottled, the rest would be jelly.  The smell of grape jelly cooking on the stove is a memory within itself.

Back when my grandmother, Ginny, was making jams and jellies she would cover the top of the jam/jelly with paraffin.  Don’t see that anymore.  And there was an art to getting the paraffin off the top of a newly opened jar so it didn’t crumble and you were picking paraffin out of the jam for ages.  If you carefully pressed down on one side of the circle of paraffin with a butter knife or spoon, it might just raise up slightly on the other side, enough so you could slip the knife or spoon under it and lift it out.  Failing that, you would have to hope when you poked at the circle of wax it would break into a couple of big pieces and not shatter into dozens of little pieces.

My dad’s job was always the pear “honey”.  His mother’s recipe, it involves peeling then grinding up the pears, adding crushed pineapple and cooking.  (Please wipe the drool off my chin.)  Dad was the one who was always in charge of that.

We also can tomatoes and green beans.  Freeze peas (Southern, not  English), okra, squash (which I don’t eat) and whatever else was in the garden and needed saving.  I was content to snap beans or shell peas, getting them ready for canning.  It was an enjoyable, hot time in the kitchen with my mom and grandmother.

For years now, I’ve done it, my parents have done it, we just do it.  Canning was something you did in the summer, like making homemade ice cream or eating watermelon or making pickles.  Never thought I wouldn’t can something during the summer.  Nothing like homemade soup or chili in the winter made with your own canned tomatoes.  Opening a jar and breathing in the aroma brings back the memories of summer in the cold of winter.  Canned green beans have a flavor all of their own which you can’t get out of a tin can from the grocery store shelf.

Now I am “trendy”.  Preserving and canning are making a comeback.  I don’t have a garden, but it’s easy enough to buy a bushel of corn, tomatoes or beans at the local farmer’s market.  I don’t put up enough to “see us through” the winter, but I put up some.  Just enough to remember what I do, my mother does and my grandmothers did.  That’s preserving.

4 comments:

  1. My Mum makes jam but I never have. I want a big garden where I can grow veg, fruit, herbs and edible flowers. I want to do all the homely things and preserve things. I want a house with a huge pantry and a root cellar. I am glad you are keeping these skills alive... One day i hope to join you.

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  2. Yum yum... i love strawberry jam, especially those without preserve and chemical colour things.

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  3. I need some of your recipes! I am threatened with bodily harm is I donlt match at least a couple of batches of blueberry jam every year! My favorite to eat myself is nectarine jam..... soon it will againbe time for my canning pot to come out from hiding too !

    Get that cookbook done !

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  4. My fave is apricot. Have to have that around the house. I also do chokecherry and bull berry jams. Yum!

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