How do you know summer’s finally, viscerally here?
Well, in our house growing up, summer always announced its arrival with a signature scent -- a blend of suntan lotion and chlorine, barbequed pork chops and melting Big Stick popsicles, but most of all the smell of melting wax. Summer also had a distinctive sound. We didn’t call good night to one another -- we would listen of the metallic *thunks* of plums hitting the roof of our old metal shed and holler, “Plum!” down the hall.
I have a feeling that in other parts of the country, the sights and smells of jam/jelly making and preserving aren’t so terribly rare . . . in Southern California in the 80s, though, we were the only kids we knew whose mother made jam. We pretty much still are, actually.
The apricot and plum trees dominated their end of the yard, which was a good thing most of the time. Except when they’d start giving off fruit too rapidly for us to keep up and we’d have to scrape up smooshed fruit guts to try to keep the flies, and the more distant, but also more scary, threat of rats, away. For a couple of years after we moved in, the trees responded so wildly (we think to actually being watered) that they exploded with fruit. I’m not kidding. Ex-plod-ed. You could hardly see that the tree had leaves for the dark purple and sunny orange fruit. Mom made batches and batches of jam, we ate bowlsful of fruit, and gave it away hand-over-fist, but we were still filling trash bag after trash bag of decaying, smooshed, and not-so-vaguely alcohol-scented rejects. Those were the summers of The Great Plum Capers -- we’d sling full bags of dead and dying fruit in the back of the van, and on our way to a movie or errands, zig clandestinely down back alleys in shopping centers, hurl the bags into their Dumpsters, and zoom away cackling at the illicit thrill.
Yeah, well, I was eight, BNA four; it seemed pretty darned exciting.
We still make jam, though just apricot now, since the plum tree died a tragic death a few years ago. (BNA is still in mourning.) Happily this year’s crop is making up for almost no fruit last year . . .
After sterilizing the jars and rings (dishwasher) and the flat lids, ladle, skimming spoon, and funnel (pot o’ boiling water), we follow the basic recipe found on the inserts in the pectin packages:
5 cups, trimmed, cut, and smooshed apricot pulp (a combo of nectar-like consistency and some larger chunks)
7 cups sugar
1 pkg pectin
¼ cup lemon juice
a dollop of butter/margarine to keep the foam down
Bring the pulp, pectin, lemon juice, and butter to a boil, stirring constantly. Pour in the sugar, bring back to a full boil, then stir for one minute longer at a full, rolling boil. Remove from heat.
Skim most of the foam (if any) off (we don’t make a project out of it), and then ladle the jam as quickly as possible into the clean jars.
Then it’s just a matter of wiping off any spills from the tops of the jars, pushing the lids on, and securing the rings, being careful, of course, to observe all proper care to keep things clean and sterile. The wax I mentioned earlier, is, of course, for sealing the jam safely into any non-canning jars we’ve culled over the previous year -- chutney sized jars are a great size.
Perhaps my favorite step is the last one: listening for the lids to ping sealed with a friendly little pop that is a cousin to the Snapple lid noise. A lovely, happy little sound.
As much fun as making it is, though, it’s even better when we get to pop the top off of a jar and spread it on toast. Bliss.
So is slathering it on boneless, skinless chicken breasts and baking them, covered, in a 325 degree oven for 30-35 minutes. Of late, I have been mixing the jam with about equal parts with bottled Filipino chili sauce, adjusting for taste depending on how spicy I’m feeling, and tossing that on top the chicken. Tasty. You can also spread the jam between butter cookies, thin it into a glaze for pork chops, or dollop it over ice cream and waffles.