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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Jam For Losers - That's Me!

So, remember how I said I always jump on board when the school asks if any parents can volunteer for an outing? They asked, and I jumped. This time we were off to the strawberry fields to pick berries with my son's English class which had just finished reading John Steinbeck's The Grapes Of Wrath. This outing was supposed to add dimension to the students' understanding of the book.

Before you protest the choice of fruit to harvest, strawberries and not the obvious choice, wrathful grapes, let me say that the intended goal of the trip in no way suffered, and the decision was forced by geography, the nearest grape vines being at least 60 miles away.
Moreover, we got to keep what we picked, and the thought of stomping around in a large wooden vat in my bloomers a la Lucy Ricardo just didn't appeal to me. (I also don't own any bloomers.)

What did appeal to me, was the thought of whipping up a wondrous batch of fresh strawberry jam. I envisioned giving jars of my jam as gifts next Christmas and I could almost hear the Oohs and Ahhs as everyone admired my beautiful jam and marveled at my great skill in the kitchen.

Thus we set off to a nearby strawberry patch (farm) and upon arrival, were given a quick introduction as to the dos and don'ts of strawberry picking, after which we were dispatched to the fields for the next four hours to pick berries. This may seem like a long time, but it goes quickly and at the end of the four hours, I had managed to fill up an entire flat of strawberries.

I was quite proud of my achievement until I learned that the real berry pickers manage up to 15 flats an hour. My son filled two flats so I was satisfied that we would have enough for my strawberry jam. In reality, I had no idea how many strawberries one needs to make a decent amount of jam, but 3 flats seemed like a good number to me. As it turned out, it was more than enough.

Once I got my strawberries home, (I had to drive berry carefully) I quickly discovered that I had nowhere near enough space in the fridge for 3 flats of strawberries. I managed to squeeze one in, and figured I would wash and clean the others so I could put them in smaller containers which I could squeeze into the fridge. Before I knew it, however, a day had passed and I found myself up at two in the morning washing and de-husking berries. I managed to fill a large bowl with berries.

The next day flew by as well, and was spent getting my husband packed for his trip to Europe, and when I finally had time to spend with my berries, I noticed that half of them had grown beards. I saved what I could and fed the rest to the garbage disposal.

But I still had enough to make jam, and jam I was going to make. So I got out the biggest pot I could find, and started a-mashing and a-smashing and a-stirring until I had a nice big vat full of bubbly strawberry goo.

Then it was time to start the jarring of the jam, and I had 8 brand new jelly jars at my disposal. What I didn't have, was anything else I needed: a second pot large enough to fully submerge even one jar, the special tongs to lift the jars out of the boiling water with out touching them with my grubby little fingers, patience, know-how, ability...

So I improvised a little.

Although it really didn't matter that much since my vat of goo never turned into a vat of thicker goo, so I wound up with 4 and 1/3 jars of questionably sealed strawberry syrup.

But it's the best darn strawberry syrup I've ever tasted.


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