Strawberry Jam; or Who are You, and What Have you Done with Elizabeth?

When I was a kid growing up in suburban Maryland, we used to spend a significant amount of time picking produce, either from our own garden, or from a local farm called Butler's Orchard. From our garden would come tomatoes, beans, lettuces, peas, cabbages, corn. We didn't have fruit trees or vines, so we picked things like strawberries and peaches at Butler's Orchard. While the produce from the garden trickled in and mostly got eaten fresh (except for large amounts, like tomatoes), when we went to the orchard it meant hours of picking, with the result being flats and flats of berries, or buckets of peaches.

Mom would make jam from the berries, and can the peaches. She also spent a significant amount of time canning tomato products and making sauerkraut. I think I liked going to the orchard and picking, but the steamy afternoons in a very hot kitchen, blanching tomatoes and taking the skins off, put me off canning forever (or so I thought). My folks didn't believe in using air conditioning, so those humid sweaty days just seemed like torture to me. Still, I enjoyed going down to the basement and bringing up a can of peaches or tomatoes in the dead of winter. I appreciated what Mom was doing. I just knew I would never do it myself.

Hence my surprise at myself this morning, up and making strawberry jam before breakfast. As I stood over a steaming pot stirring foamy berries, I suddenly wondered what the hell was I doing. Pickles are one thing; but JAM? And was I actually enjoying the process? Hmmmm.

This isn't the first time I'd asked myself this question lately. Um, yeah, horse manure? Dad used to get loads of steer manure from the nearby farms and add it to his garden, and I used to roll my eyes and pinch my nose. Yuck, was my teenaged opinion. So how come suddenly I'm doing the very same thing he used to do? And how come I'm making jam at the crack of dawn?

I called my mom and asked her a few questions. Why, I asked, did you put up vegetables and fruit and make jam? Did you LIKE doing it? Or did you just feel as though you HAD to?

Well, she answered, it all started because of Dad's garden; we had SO MUCH produce, I just had to put some up. And I liked going to the orchard and picking, and I liked making jam. I knew that making stuff at home would taste better and be healthier than what I could buy in the stores. And yeah, I looked forward to that summer canning time.

Phew. Talking to her relieved my mind a little, I mean, I guess I was worried that maybe she felt coerced into doing it or something, like it was a chore she dreaded. I'm glad it wasn't. Because very surprisingly, I'm enjoying myself too. I like looking at my burgeoning canning shelf. I actually read Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry cover to cover and stayed interested. I think I might do more of this canning thing.

Making jam was fun. Tom made peach jam  a few weeks back, and I rediscovered that I like eating jam. Yesterday Kate mentioned that she'd like to make a layer cake with jam as the filling, and I thought, there's that pectin I made a while ago, and strawberries will be out of season soon. Next thing I knew, I was cutting up berries to macerate them in sugar overnight.

I have plenty of jam ready now to eat and use in the layer cake, or spoon over pancakes and ice cream. And I have four lovely jars up on the canning shelf for winter time, when we'd like a taste of strawberry. Also, the house smells incredible and has all morning. Win-win-WIN.

The shelf is starting to fill up. Soon, tomatoes!