Monday, July 29, 2013

Summer in a Jar

I began making preserves, jams, and jellies almost 40 years ago, and have made them pretty much every year since.  At first, I haunted abandoned orchards and you-pick stands for fruit.  When I had my own land, I planted a sour cherry tree so I could have cherry jelly and preserves; planted currents, gooseberries, strawberries, rhubarb, apples, blueberries, pears, plums, and two kinds of raspberries... all of which were enjoyed a variety of ways, including preserves.  Mom and dad would bring back tree-ripened peaches from a road-side stand in South Carolina every summer, and always gave me at least a half bushel -- and sometimes much more than that.  They were the best peaches; I've rarely had others that come close. It takes flavorful, delicious, properly-grown and properly-ripened fruit to make good preserves.  I've made dozens of kinds of jams, hundreds of jars over the years, and have given away most of them.  It's been a part of every summer.

That is, until a few years ago.  Things in my life were unsettled and I no longer had a garden in which to grow fruit.  Inexpensive, quality, local fruit is rare (the key word being inexpensive; certainly, there's quality, local fruit, although after having grown my own for 18 years I have very high standards).    So jams and jellies went by the wayside.

This summer, I happened upon some really wonderful peaches.  I was skeptical at first (California peaches?  they couldn't possibly compare to those tree-ripened, South Carolina gems) but they smelled so good that I bought a few and tried them.  

Then I went back and bought a few dozen more.  They're the best peaches I've had in years, and the ones that didn't get eaten went into preserves.

Everything I remembered about making preserves was still true: tedious preparation of fruit.  Sticky mess everywhere.  Scrubbing of jars and lids.  Hot, scalding, bubbling fruit splattering my hands and arms.  

And wonderful aromas, warm, rich tastes, and jewel-like colors. Delicious preserves to share and enjoy all winter long. 

But best of all was that it was good to return to that part of me.  It was about more than tradition or doing something familiar; it was a reconnection to my past, to something that I loved, and to a way of sharing that has been part of who I am for the majority of my life.

Cook, eat, dance, love!


(The recipe I used is in Sure-Jell boxes and on their website, so I'm not repeating it here.)