I wiped the sides of the last jar of strawberry freezer jam, screwed
on the lid, and stepped back to admire my handiwork. It didn’t matter
that my shoes stuck to the floor, or that the countertop was spattered
with red stains from the strawberry juice. I didn’t even care that I would
have to shower in order to remove the sugary stickiness from my arms.
The jam looked heavenly and I could hardly wait to slather a heaping
spoonful on a thick slice of homemade bread.
As a young girl, I loved to visit my grandmother. Every meal
included her homemade bread topped with sweet, gooey, homemade jam.
The apricot and strawberry jams were always bottled in dainty jelly jars,
often sealed with wax and covered with tinfoil before being stored in the
freezer. Nana never served the sweet concoctions out of the jars,
however. Each variety was neatly spooned into a tall serving dish divided
into two sections. Somehow the dish made the jams look even more
elegant. It was always so hard to choose which jam to put on my toast. In
fact, sometimes I wanted to just eat the jam with a spoon and forget the
Jam was not the only specialty Nana canned. I would often be sent
to her fruit room to retrieve a bottle of homemade pickles. The fruit room
was in the basement just to the left of a steep set of stairs. I would open
the door cautiously and peer into the cool room to be sure nothing scary
would jump out to get me. The cement room, no bigger than a closet,
was lined on three sides with wooden shelves. A tiny window, set high on
the south wall, was covered with a curtain to keep the light out. I would
turn on the simple bare bulb and stare at the rows and rows of mason jars
filled with tasty treasures. The bottles were filled with tomatoes, chili
sauce, fruit, and oodles of pickles. Nana made all kinds of pickles: sweet
pickles, mustard pickles, dill pickles, and bread and butter pickles.
The sweet pickles were my personal favorites. Nana would go out
to her huge garden every morning to harvest the tiny baby cucumbers,
gingerly lifting the leaves so as not to miss any. It was important to pick
the cucumbers almost as soon as the flower fell from the tips or else they
would be too large for sweet pickles. Nana would carry in the cucumbers,
sometimes gathered in her apron, and deposit them into a large ceramic
crock filled with salty brine. I never quite knew how those miniature
cucumbers turned so magically into sweet pickles. I always had to return
home before the process was complete. Yet the memory of the pickle
crock and shelves lined with jars were a seed of inspiration for me.
Shortly after I was married, the canning fever seed sprouted. I could
hardly wait to become the perfect homemaker and emulate Nana’s
example and skills. My friend, Carol, was an avid canner and she set about
teaching me some of the finer points of home canning. In her small
apartment kitchen, I discovered the wonders of the steam canner....