Saturday morning, I went to the farmers market just to buy local strawberries for jam. I wanted to take the girls to pick our own, but the forecast was for temperatures in the high 90’s. They would have been fine for about, oh, five minutes in that heat. And considering the amount of jam I wanted to make, it would have been in exercise in whining (for them) and frustration (for me). I took the easy route.
I make freezer jam just like my mom does and like my grandma did. (Recipe here). It’s all I have ever known, really. As a child, I didn’t realize how lucky I was. There was never store-bought jelly in my sandwiches or on my toast. We had a chest freezer in our garage and when the jam jar was empty, you just went and got another one. Some years there were choices, too. We always had strawberry and sometimes raspberry. One year my brother asked for blueberry and my mom made it for him. I was spoiled and I intend to do the same to my children.
Cleaning and washing the berries was my job once I was old enough to help. I didn’t much care for it then, but now I enjoy holding the familiar paring knife in my hand and cutting the tops off of the warm berries. My mom did the rest. The process was always a mystery – it involved sugar and sure-jell, but beyond that I didn’t pay much attention. Now I do, though. Freezer jam is one of the easiest things I make. The process is just as familiar to me as making chocolate chip cookies. I have established a good rhythm, working on multiple batches at a time. It takes a few hours, but in the end I have jam to last us the entire year.
Saturday afternoon as I sliced and mashed berries, stirring in sugar, I thought about my mom and my grandma. I remembered being at my grandparents’ farm, getting up in the morning and walking out the door to pick berries for my breakfast. And then returning a bit later to get some more. I remembered how much my mom hated to pick berries when she was younger, so my grandma told her if she didn’t want to pick, she would have to cook. So she cooked and my grandma picked instead. I thought of my mom’s old kitchen, the counters splashed with sugar and lined with jars, the smell of berries everywhere. And I remembered the jam – all those jars, stacked in our freezer, labeled in my mom’s handwriting. The taste! How nothing will ever bring me right back to my childhood as quickly as homegrown berries and strawberry jam. And then I wondered what my girls will remember. What thing will take them back in time?
My secret wish? I hope it’s jam.