Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Family Jamming Tradition

While the May long weekend may be the official kickoff to summer for many, for me it's the annual strawberry picking and jam making extravaganza that signals the start of the season.

I've been making strawberry jam for over a quarter of a century now, so it's a firmly entrenched tradition in our household. A few years ago I was cleaning out my stash of Mason jars and found one labelled "July 1985" in my teenage-girl handwriting - I would have been 14 that year. Yep, I've been jamming for a long time! My husband and I have been making strawberry jam on Canada Day (July 1st) since our kids were in diapers, but strawberry season has arrived earlier these past few years, and we'd been hitting the tail end of the season instead of the peak. In fact, this year the season started so early I think the pick-your-own farms will be done by then!

My hubby and 14 year old son went and picked 18 quarts of berries last Wednesday at Lindley's Farm. We ate a lot of them fresh, used some to make the topping for our Father's Day cheesecake, and froze a few, but a substantial amount of them were devoted to jam production. Between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday evening, I managed to turn this:

 into this:

While it's satisfying to see all those jars neatly filled and lined up, for me, making jam is about much more than the final product. It's a ritual that connects me to my childhood, my community and my values. My mother wasn't particularly domestically-minded, but she did make strawberry jam each year in my younger years and I remember going to the local strawberry fields to pick with her each June. Unfortunately, those fields now hold a housing development instead of fresh, local fruit. Supporting local farmers is important to me, and going to pick the berries at a local farm is an important piece of this tradition (and you can't beat the smell of a strawberry field on a warm June day!) The local strawberry farms, like the one I used to pick at as a kid, have disappeared at an alarming rate in my lifetime and I want to help make sure the ones that are still in existence continue to thrive. The decline in local farms is particularly saddening because our local berries are absolutely exquisite; they are so sweet and juicy they're almost like candy. You just won't find anything like them in those imported boxes at the grocery store (in fact, the taste is so different it's hard to believe they're even the same fruit). I also think it's pretty cool that many of the Mason jars I pack that jam into have been with me for a good decade or two (and some of them have been with me since that first jamming session of mine 27 summers ago). Most importantly, my kids know where the best food comes from: fresh, locally grown edibles lovingly prepared in your own kitchen. 

It just occurred to me that my older son is now the same age that I was all those summers ago when I made jam by myself for the first time. Perhaps it's time for him to whip up a batch of his own.

What have you been doing with YOUR fresh, local berries?

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  1. I also made jam. And put boxes of unsweetened berries in the freezer. I will thaw them and drain well and use in the dead of winter for yummy strawberry pie...a favorite at our home. We ate lots of the luscious berries themselves, on cereal,on shortcake and in pies. Yummy! We have our own patch but were in constant battle to keep the birds from harvesting more than us.

    1. Linda, we have a small patch in our yard, too, but did not get to enjoy any of the berries ourselves - I think the squirrels and birds ate them all. Thankfully they seem to stay out of our raspberry patch :) There's nothing like pulling out those frozen berries in the dead of winter for an instant taste of summer!! Ours usually end up in smoothies, though.

  2. I remember making jam with my mom only once. My parents started their own business when I was little and they were so busy with that, fresh cooking/eating fell by the wayside. Plus, it was the 1970's and we thought packaged "modern" food was the best! (Ugh, when I think of all the "Hamburger Helper" that I, a vegetarian now for 7 years, had to eat...) I've never made jam as an adult. I want to try it but have had small kitchens in the last several years. There may be a laziness factor, as well. ;-) But I make my own bread and cook everything else from scratch so I know I'll give it a try eventually. We buy our local berries at the farmers' market and then also frozen ones from a local farm year round. But thanks for reminding me that it's berry picking season: every year, we say we're going to go and then we miss the strawberries because our season here (Seattle) is so short.

    1. I also endured a lot of heavily processed food growing up in the '70s (Count Chocula, anyone?). I think I might have learned to cook out of self defense :) You would do just fine making jam with all your cooking experience!! And I've always had a pretty small kitchen in all the apartments and houses I've lived in as an adult and still managed to do a bunch of canning. It doesn't take up that much space if you're relatively organized. A batch of strawberry jam doesn't really take that long to make - less than an hour even if you're being fairly slow about it. The longest part is waiting for it to come to a full rolling boil then skimming off all the foam. Let me know if you decide to give it a go :)


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