How to make jam
As the days lengthen and wildflowers begin their modest show on a woodland stage, keep searching for the signs.
Try to remember: Did the farm stand open in April last year? Or was it May?
Wait. Let the longing fill the back of your mouth until you have to lick your lips.
When your father's friend, the farmer, lets him know they are ripe, schedule the day and ready your supplies: pectin, sugar (10 pounds!), jars, lids, pans, spatulas, canning pot.
Pile everyone into the car. While your father talks with the farmer's father (second--or is he third?--generation on this land), walk among the plats of berries picked that day, resisting the temptation to fondle and taste.
Take your toddler into the fields. Show her the fruit, how it hangs heavy on the leafy plants. Teach her how to choose the best ones--bright color, firm but not too firm, easily released to the basket. Let her eat as many as she picks. Disregard the juice that runs down her chin and onto her shirt.
Look up. Breathe in the mountain air, the farm soil, the berries, no longer a dream.
Take them home, clean them, cut them, mash them. Taste a few for quality control.
Let their aroma fill the kitchen.
Let your talk be of times past and of mothers' hands and of grandmothers' cobblers and of aunts gossiping in your childhood kitchen. Let your talk form a memory for the child beside you. Know that she is listening, if not to your words, then to your voices.
Add the pectin. Rolling bubble. Add the sugar. Rolling bubble, stirring constantly for one minute. The timing is precise, talk is minimal, the child busied away from the hot stove. This is the critical point.
When the sparkling liquid is just right, it is time. Fill the jars, clean and cap them--you are a team now, working seamlessly together, in comfortable companionship.
Process in a canning pot for fifteen minutes (adjusting for altitude, as you are above 3000 feet).
Sample the half jar that didn't fit into the canner. Make jam bread for the toddler while you wait. This will require a thick slice of brown bread, a pat of butter, and a large spoon.
When the time is up, lift the rack of jeweled jars from the water and lay them out, diamonds on a velvet cloth.
Listen for the satisfying pop as they cool and seal.
Wash dishes and repeat. Three more times.
Fluctuate between selfish desire to hoard and magnanimous pride in your handiwork. Let generosity win and give most of your creation away.
Plan for another round next Saturday. Eat waffles or toast every morning--with jam.
Relish each bite and know that, come winter, you will be dreaming of berries again.
Vow to savor the fruits of summer all year long.
Author's note: Summer is berry season in the mountains. While strawberries are coming to an end in June, be on the lookout for blueberries, blackberries, and huckleberries next.
All images by Wesley J. Satterwhite