|Not the blueberry jam Chris and I made.|
Actually, I can. When I was a real boy in my early teens, I spent three consecutive summers with my maternal grandparents in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, in the summer, known as Canada's Hawaii. While my parents and sister remained in Dawson Creek, 700 miles north, I got my favorite grandparents all to myself. That is, if you didn't pay attention to the revolving door of relatives only too happy to find an excuse to travel to Kelowna between early July and late August to visit.
The Okanagan is famous for its fruit production. As I recall, the growing season starts with strawberries in late June and proceeds to cherries in early July, apricots later in the month, peaches in early August followed by plums. A variety of apples appear in late September and on into October, when the first frosts ripen them from green to red. And, of course, throughout the panoply of fruit seasons, a variety of vegetables overcome gardens, from tomatoes and cucumbers, to zucchinis and corn.
In the early '70s, I remember watching my grandmother spend her entire summers stooped over huge boiling pots, turning the bounty of patches, orchards, and gardens into a cellar full of glass jars she and my grandfather would draw from until the following summer, when the canning routine started all over again. Countertops, tables, and the stove were always covered in some type of fruit or vegetable, in various stages of production; I wonder now how we ever had enough space to sit and eat our meals.
I still see my grandmother toiling in the kitchen, the heat outside a stifling 32 degrees C. (94 F.) or hotter, the house an oppressive sauna, as my grandparents never owned an air conditioner. I think the reason why I never considered making my own jam until this past Sunday is because I'd had my fill of jam-making and canning from those summers, even though I don't recall helping. And because I'd never thought of it as something I wanted to do. Why not just buy what you need at the store?
Still, I LOVE blueberries, and the blueberry season, although three or four weeks in duration, is over far too soon. How better to extend it beyond the last weeks of August than by converting some into jam Chris and I will savor every morning at breakfast, when we eat toast along with our cereal? Not to mention how gratifying it is to make something with your own hands and, in the case of jam, how healthier, too, since Chris is diabetic, and we can control the amount of sugar used.
So there we were, Chris and me, in a kitchen double the size my grandmother had to work in, the temperature inside and out a pleasant 21 degrees C., a mere four pounds of blueberries waiting in a large clamshell to be turned into less than a dozen cup-sized jars of jam. Not a daunting prospect, I admit. Except I'd never made jam before and wasn't sure I could. As a starting point, I went on the Internet and located a recipe that broke the process down step-by-step. Even I could do it, I thought.
Normally, I would have completed the project myself, banishing Chris to anywhere but the kitchen, since I become irritated if I constantly bump into him, or if we're always in each other's way. But, this time, I thought I could use a second pair of eyes to keep me on top of the detailed instructions, and to do some of the grunt work while I made sure everything was ready to go when we needed it. The two of us helping each other really made a difference; I recommend sharing the responsibility.
"Now, remember," I told Chris at the outset, "there are two tricks to making jam. It has to thicken, so it's the right consistency and not a loose mess in the jars, and the jars need to seal properly so none of the jam spoils." I spread the nine pages of printed instructions (including pictures) on the island in the center of our kitchen, showed Chris what I'd already done to get us organized, and put a potato masher in his hand, directing him to the large mixing bowl and ten cups of blueberries already pre-measured.
I'd like to tell you some horrific thing happened, making this story far more interesting than it really is, but, in fact, everything went as smoothly as it could have. The only inconvenience was that Chris and I had to wait to start boiling the blueberries, lemon juice, water, apple juice (for sweetener), and pectin until the sanitize cycle in the dishwasher was over, ensuring the jars were sterilized and hot at the time we poured the boiled mixture into them.
And was our first jam-making effort successful? You bet it was. I tested a bit of the boiled mixture in a small spoon sitting in ice water to ensure the jam thickened properly and decided to add a little more pectin, boiling the mixture another minute (as instructed) before carefully ladling it into the jars. In the end, the jam thickened perfectly, and the seals on all ten jars popped during the next couple of hours (music to our ears). The only change I'd make is with the sweetener, adding a little sugar to the mix.
Next up: peach jam, after Chris returns home from the Interior with a trunk full of fresh fruit.
Jam--not just someone's grandmother makes it.
|This peach jam we made.|
How much fun is making jam. I wish we'd started earlier this summer and taken advantage of other fruit seasons before they came and went.
Oh, and by the way, this batch we cooked with four cups of sugar to ten cups of fruit (considered a reduced amount of sweetener), and not apple juice only as we did with the blueberry jam earlier in August, which I now find a little bitter. Chris is happy with it though, since he's diabetic.