Jam at Least

I did not do a lot this growing season. I planted garlic last fall and recently pulled that from the ground. But I planted no garden. I never picked strawberries of blueberries. We had no farm share this year. Granted, we were away much of the summer, but still, I put up little. I was no gardener or gatherer.

We did manage to get out to pick apples at least. We picked lots of them, many varieties, from Shelburne Orchards, our favorite orchard. The view alone from that place makes a visit worth it. I have made apple crisp a couple of times, and have enough apples left to make one more. And last weekend I made apple jam.

Blueberry and strawberry and other berry jams get all the publicity. They are good no doubt. Huckleberry or marionberry jam can fill the mouth with deliciousness that is hard to beat. But these past few years my favorite jam has been made with apples.

We have an apple tree at our house but it has been unhealthy and bears little fruit now. When it did offer up fruit I made the best jam ever. Those apples are Red Delicious, your classic apple. I have not liked those kinds of apples typically. They are usually mealy, lacking flavor, with tough skins. They hold up well and can be transported without too much damage but that shelf life takes its toll on tastiness. Red Delicious certainly are red–they usually look great in a pile at the supermarket–but they are anything but delicious. The ones from our tree, however, are some of the best apples I have ever had. When I first tasted a ripe one I understood why the variety became so popular. Unfortunately, that popularity has been costly.

My jam is pretty simple–apples, sugar, lemon juice, pectin, some nutmeg. With good apples it is a sweet treat that makes a mean PB and J, if you know what I’m saying. I took a couple of hours to rustle up eight jars. They are still sitting on the counter, waiting to be stored. That growing season lethargy continues, I guess. I have a jar left from last season and will polish that off soon. Then I will taste this season’s batch. I have no doubt it will be good, and it will last into the winter. I have no potatoes or onions or frozen pumpkin this year, but I do at least have some apple jam. It won’t make a meal but it will remind me of the days when blossoms filled the air with their almost supernatural scent, and of bees, and of fruit heavy on branches.

Maybe next year I will be better at taking advantage of the short growing season, of the wonder of fresh food grown myself, or grown by my neighbors. For now, however, I’ll have to settle for some toast.

Berries and Jam

I was afraid that we would be too late to pick blueberries. I drove by the sign early in the morning: Pick Your Own Blueberries. Late August, but not too late. I called Pelkey’s Farm in Charlotte to see if they really were still picking, or if the sign just hadn’t been taken down yet. It was past peak season, the young woman on the phone told me, but there were still plenty. So that hot afternoon my son and I drove over and picked us some berries.

The description I got was about right. The huge berries you can rake off the bushes to fill your bucket in a half-hour were scant. There were lots of smaller berries, more spread out, and they were as tasty as they get. It was hot in the summer sun and we were slow, but still we managed to pick a good amount. My bucket was a little more full than my son’s, but I let that slide and got him (and me) a creemee afterwards. Vanilla creemee with fresh blueberries dotting the top?  Saying no to that would just be cruel.

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Berries in the bucket

When we got home I measured out a few cups to make jam (the rest we would polish off fresh). I washed them and gathered the rest of the ingredients to make jam. I cut up a mango and tossed that into the pot with the berries before turning on the heat.

Fruit ready to get transformed

Fruit ready to get transformed

That fruit turned a bit to mush once it got warm. With a little sugar stirred in we had us some jam. Of course, eating all that jam would take a while, so I poured it into jars and canned it. One of the jars didn’t seal, which was a first for me (lid not on properly? jam on the rim? not sure) but I still got seven jars to keep for later. I will swirl that one rogue jar into a coffee cake so it isn’t all that much of a loss. We will be tasting summer in the winter, even if it has all that extra sugar. Blueberry mango jam on some fresh bread on a snowy morning? I’ll take it.

Sweet goo

Sweet goo

Blueberry mango jam cooling on the counter

Blueberry mango jam cooling on the counter

Strawberries Finally Ready

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My son and I went and picked strawberries the other day. It took us no time at all to pick eight quarts. It was a warm day but the berries were plentiful. We ate a few but brought most of them home. Norris Berry Farm in Hinesburg did us right.

We have about two quarts left. I used two of them to make jam. It is the best strawberry jam I have made yet. I canned five small and five tall jam jars. I only had seven lids (thought I had more) so did would I could. I scooped the jam that wouldn’t fit into jars into a bin for the fridge. I would have had more left over but I had a kind-of enormous boil-over. That was a bit of a mess–sticky strawberry goo all over the stove top. I had thought about using a larger pot but did not. I won’t make that mistake again. Gotta love experiential learning.

I froze two quarts and we have eaten a couple of quarts. We had a fresh quart from the market already when we brought home the ones we picked. I have been eating them with yogurt and granola for breakfast and then having some straight up with lunch, and I am not the only one in the house who is painting his teeth pink. If the season doesn’t end too quickly I may have time to go pick more. The season does not last long in any case, so I want to eat as many as I can in the present. Can I get strawberries other times of the year? Sure, but in January they taste like wood with just a hint of strawberry flavor. That just isn’t what I’m talking about.

Rows of berries stretching into the summer sun

Rows of berries stretching into the summer sun