Sunday, September 19, 2010

We be Jammin

People crave convenience more than they crave the satisfaction of the process. We've seen the industrialization of our livestyles and commoditization of our goods offer us more ways to facilitate our busy lives. And it all seems to be about saving time. Drive this to get there faster. Eat this prepared meal to save hours on cooking. Shop here to get all your goods at one place.

Yet another growing trend that has become a fad, in a sense, is the regression to the good old days where people took a hands on approach to fulfilling and sustaining themselves down to the individual level. Purists and passionate artisans built the farmers markets and created the hand-done crafts to offer to a community that cares about where their products come from and who the person is that made them. Meanwhile, large corporations picked up on the popularity of organic and homemade. All of a sudden every Kroger and Whole Foods produce department alike have graphics of American family farms and buzz words like "organic" "natural" and "gourmet" emblazoned across product labels.

But we don't talk much about the joy in it. The pleasure of the process that contributes to the reward of the end result. Wander the path, pick the fruit, stir the pot and get lost in the rhythm of your own pace. I got all that from making jam.

My parents have a house on Camano Island, located near the San Juan islands in the Puget Sound. Towards the end of the summer, the sandy bluffs that line the beachfront are covered with blackberry bushes that are bursting with lushious blackberries, salted by the ocean spray. I spent an afternoon with family, friends and their respective dogs collecting the blackberries as we walked the beach. When we brought our load home I decided to make some jam and spent the afternoon boiling jars, mashing fruit and licking sticky fingers as it simmered away. I could have spent the $5 dollars to buy a jar of Smuckers. But that jam has no significance. It's just a sweet smear on my toast that I eat absent-mindedly while scanning morning work emails. MY jam is different. My jam comes from the beaches of the Pacific Northwest and is flavored with orange zest. My jam was made on a Sunday afternoon in my kitchen as I scanned "The Joy of Cooking" and improvized a canning tray by using cookie cutters as a platform to boil my jars. My jam was anxiously anticipated as it cooled for 24 hours in the refrigerator and eagerly opened the next morning to see whether or not I totally nailed or totally screwed up the first batch of jam I've made since I was a kid making strawberry preserves with my mom in our kitchen, where I discovered the stunning sugar to berry ratio it requires to make good jam. My jam has a story and memories, it is tart and sweet and bright with citrus. There's something so much more rewarding and special about doing it from scratch.

Blackberry-Orange Jam
5 Cups blackberries
1 packet pectin
5 Cups granulated sugar
Zest from 2 oranges
Juice from 1/2 an orange

Equipment (See helpful link from pickyourown)

Place canner in a large pot of water and bring to a boil. Submerge jars and lids in water and reduce to a simmer. Place berries in separate large pot with a heavy base - make sure you use a deep pot to avoid splattering hot jam! Heat berries on medium-high heat as you mash with a potato masher. Berries will continue to break down as they cook. Gradually add pectin and bring to a boil as your continually stir. Add 5 cups of sugar and orange zest and juice. Return to a boil for 5 minutes as you stir. If a layer of bubbles begins to build you can add a teaspoon of butter.

Remove jars and lids from canner and wipe dry. Fill each jar leaving space at the neck of the jar and place lid and band on top. Seal tightly. Return jars to the canner and submerge back into boiling water for 10 minutes. Set jars aside while they cool and ensure that lids form a vacuum packed seal. Place jars in refrigerator for 24 hours before serving.

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