Tag Archives: jam making

A Plum Date

It’s early morning and the days are getting shorter fast, yet I sit and stare.  I feel weary and weak.

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What difference does another jar of jam really make?  I am too wimpy to take anything else on, I think.  Still, I ask the Bearded One, quietly.  “Do you want to go pick Lou’s plums with me?”

I know the Bearded One is racing to get the next round of deck staining finished, and it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, but he says he’s up for it.  “A plum date,” he says.  “Got to work on the plumming.”

My blood perks up a bit.  I get up from the couch.

“Do you want a picking jug?” I ask.

“NO,” he says, then immediately, “YES.”

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This is his usual pattern of which I rarely witness such a blatant display, and he knows it, and we both smile.  Not an actual laugh or anything, but I feel light at the top of the rabbit hole I’ve fallen into this weekend.

I lash the milk jug to my waist with the ribbon looped through the handle and pull on my boots.  I fetch a couple of 5-gallon buckets and the apple picker pole from the barn.

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The goats watch me and follow me down the hill, hoping for a plum.  Which I pick from our tree and give to each of them through the fence.  Their fleece is thickening up fast.  I consider starting to brush them now, to avoid the dreadlocks.  Nah.

LaLa takes the entire plum into his mouth and works it, chewing and shifting the skin and sweet pulp around in his mouth for a full minute or two.  Then, behold, he spits the pit through the fence a full five feet, like a watermelon seed.  A hilarious direct hit to my sour mood.

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This morning is cloudy, but it’s supposed to be sunny this afternoon.  We walk the road north to Lou’s place and make note of the potholes we’ll need to fill soon.

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I adjust the 10-foot long picker pole I’m carrying.  Lou’s is the one thing on this road that hasn’t changed, I think.  He’s 86-years-old and getting frail, but he’s still here.  Momma Goose moved out.  Hansel and Gretel and Batman started their homeschooling elsewhere this week.  Ruby is dead, His Majesty has gone back to college, and all 235 wedding jams are gone.

The Bearded One whistles as we walk up Lou’s driveway, but we can hear his TV and he said for us to just come on over and pick the whole orchard anytime.  “It’s either you or the deer!” he said.  He lives alone. We met his extended family this summer, when they were up from California.  We have their phone numbers now, and Lou knows to call us if he has an emergency.

We’ll leave him one of the jugs full of the best plums, apples and pears and a couple of pints of jam — Rhuberry and Peach.  He couldn’t decide when I asked him which he wanted.  “Surprise me,” he said.

Lou’s yard is full of plant experiments, old trucks, mowers and various project leftovers.  His little orchard circle behind the house is overgrown with weeds, the mason bee canisters moldy and quiet.

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Ripe fruit — dark purple plums, red and yellow apples, golden pears — hang from every tree limb.

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“These plums are gorgeous!”  I reach up with the pole picker and pry the high ones off into the pronged basket.  The Bearded One picks the apples and pears.

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Sap droplets ooze from the tops of the juicy plums, and I pick two and three at a time, dropping them into my milk jug, filling it a dozen times.

As we leave with two full buckets, Lou hears us and opens the front door.  He smiles and waves a plastic bag and calls out, “WAIT!”

We stop and the Bearded One jogs over and retrieves the bag, and points out our gift on the porch.  Lou smiles big and hollers, “Thank you!” to me.

I see that the plastic bag is full of jam jars, all carefully cleaned.  There are the metal bands and plastic tops I gave him to use instead of the metal lids.  Everything washed and ready for another use.  “You’re welcome!” I call back.  “Thank YOU!”

The date is over.  I’ve got jam to make, I think, and rush home.

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Jam On

My ankle is still fragile, so I’m wearing my hiking boots in the kitchen.  I’m wearing my brown pioneer skirt, too, so I look like Granny Clampett.

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The Bearded One is out in the shed working on the spoon he had just started when he succumbed to the flu two weeks ago.  We are both so happy in our little lives we can hardly stand it.

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I’ve got six months to make 220 little jars of jam, one for each guest at our oldest daughter’s wedding on August 24.  Can I do it?  I’ve got to get my jam on.

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This wonderful wedding jam job has given my garden a focus, too.  I’m filling the Circle Garden with strawberries and blueberries and rhubarb.  I’ll transplant the strawberries from the hoophouse this week, making room to seed it with spring radishes, lettuces, broccoli and cabbage.

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Right now, though, I’m warming up my jamming chops, making a few pints with frozen berries, and reflecting.  Spinning, really, with the speed and intensity of our grown children’s lives, and our role in them.

First there’s our youngest daughter bursting into hysterical tears in our driveway on Thursday morning.  I see her anguish, her night nurse fatigue after four 12-hour shifts.  “It’s the first rule we learned in nursing school!” she wails as I hug her thin chest.  “Don’t trust anyone!”

She’s no longer 26-years-old, she’s my little girl and I listen to her story of work frustration and get her to the hot tub and cheer her up by modeling a few of the many silky tops available to her from the huge bag of Goodwill clothes our lovely neighbor Edeltraut gave us.

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She scowls and shakes her head over and over, but then I hold up the cutest one yet.  “That’s so 2002,” she says sourly, and then begins to smile and adds, “This is fun.”

Then I answer the phone on Sunday morning when our 21-year-old son calls.  His voice is so pained, my breath catches when I hear it.  “We were robbed,” he says.  “My bass and amp and guitar and effects pedals, the ones I got for Christmas, all stolen.”

I cry out and the Bearded One rushes to the phone.  No one was hurt.  Our son was jamming with his roommates and a few other friends late Saturday night.  He had gone to bed at 1:30am and left the instruments in the rec room, and when he got up, they were gone.  He feels like puking.  He slept right through it.  The thief was probably someone at the party.  The Bearded One counsels him out of the chaos and shock toward all the responsible citizen stuff he’ll need to address quickly.

Just a month ago, our son was playing that bass right here in front of the woodstove.

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Since then, his cover band booked its first gig, a sorority event on March 14.  And now this.

Our oldest daughter is here when our son calls with the news.  She watches the Bearded One handle the crisis after I go off to weep.  Later, at dinner, she says to the Bearded One, “So, there’s this friend who’s getting a divorce, and he says that I should marry someone I have a lot in common with.”

The Bearded One says, “I know you’re not asking for advice, but that’s horsesh*t.  Just plain dumb.”

Our daughter laughs and says that’s exactly what her fiance says, too.  She and her dearest are wildly different people, as are the Bearded One and I.  Matchmakers wouldn’t give us very good odds, but life isn’t a smooth race and our differences have helped us more than hurt.

When the Bearded One comes in for a late burrito lunch, I’m just taking the second and last batch of jars out of the canner.  He says he’s been sanding for hours.

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The spoon is indeed much smaller than the baseball bat he started with.  It’s lovely.

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He tells me that it is made completely with hand tools, and that the madrona wood is harder than he expected.  He carefully places the unfinished spoon on the kitchen table next to his plate.

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We’re eating and talking about spoon craft when our son calls and tells us about what the police said — that they’re checking videos at key intersections close to the house, finding and questioning the one unknown visitor to the party, and sending the bass serial number out to pawn shops in the area.

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“Are you okay?” I ask.

“There’s lots of guitars in the world, Mom,” he says.  “We’re still practicing tonight.”

“All right,” I say.  “Jam on.”

Jam Junkies of Tasmania

It takes an extra week for a box with two jars of jam to get through Tasmanian customs.

Our friends Fran and Steve — of our sister farmlet, Serendipity Farm, on the other side of the planet — lay the delay onto the fear of the poppy and heroin trade, but what the agents don’t know is how euphoric and addicting Peach Rhubarb jam can be.  Fran just emailed me an urgent, desperate plea for the recipe.

Hi Christi,

Could I PLEASE (pretty please…kissy kissy…) have your recipe for rhubarb and peach jam. I don’t think that we could live without it on Serendipity Farm and as the precious jar dwindles alarmingly (Steve has been ladling it onto his morning toast…) I can see that precious elixir escaping our adoring clutches. I would ask you for your other jam recipe but we don’t actually have huckleberries in Australia and I have no idea what we would use to substitute? Love love LOVE that jam! A little taste of pure Olalla sunshine in every single bite…you should sell it! Feel free to use my adoration as endorsement 🙂

Love Fran

P.S. pretty pretty pretty pretty please?… (I am starting to sound like a heroin addict so I might just stop there! 😉

Fran’s birthday jam was 18 days total in transit, but just getting it there still qualifies as a miracle in my book, as do my almost instantaneous daily cyber messages to the Down Under.  The connection is as clear and strong as our mutual vision of taking back our food production and lives.  I decide to make a batch — about 6 pints — and take pictures of the process to email her.

The Bearded One is going to the feed store anyway, so he agrees to stop at the fruit stand for a box of Eastern Washington peaches. He leaves and I head out to the garden for the rhubarb, which I fertilized with a mild 5-5-5 organic fertilizer for the first time this year and am glad I did.  The stalks are thick and pink.  I cut 6 stalks, which will make 2 cups of puree.

I notice the corn, which finally has visible ears after struggling mightily to get going in our cool wet climate.  The pumpkins are taking off now, too, and I see several little pumpkins forming.  I started the corn, pumpkins and beans back in May in the hoop house with seeds from Territorial Seed, the Oregon company started by Steve Solomon, who now, unbelievably, is Fran’s neighbor in Tasmania.

Back in the kitchen, I assemble my jamming equipment on the counter just the way I like it and start to puree the rhubarb.

I stick the recipe on the wall with tape.  It’s the same recipe no matter what fruit I use.

  • 8 cups mashed fruit
  • 8 T. lemon juice
  • 5 t. calcium water (which is a 1t calcium powder per 1/2 cup water mix)
  • 4 cups sugar PLUS more sugar to taste after it boils
  • 5-6 t. Pomona’s Universal Pectin powder

This week marks the one year anniversary of Jamageddon, when I had to throw out 60 jars of strawberry rhubarb jam because the seals failed.  I made the mistake of trying to solve fruit float by turning the jars upside down, and even though the seals were fine at first, particles had compromised the still-warm seals.

The Bearded One returns with the peaches and I start peeling and mashing —

— while he unloads the hay, dry cob, and cracked corn into the trailer.  I hear the tractor start as I mix 6 cups of mashed peaches (I used 10 peaches), 2 cups of pureed rhubarb, 8 T. lemon juice and 5 t. calcium water in my 4 qt. pot and start it heating.

On the other burner sits the big 21-qt. canning pot full of boiling water and 7 pint jars.

I measure 4 cups of sugar and mix in 5-1/2 t. pectin powder.  I buy Pomona’s pectin in bulk and it is much cheaper that way.  It also takes a lot less sugar to jell. When the fruit starts to boil, I dump in the sugar/pectin and stir.

I keep stirring until it comes to a boil again, and then I do a woo-woo thing.  I ask the Deva of Jam — the nature intelligence or spirit — how much more sugar this particular jam needs.  A half cup?  A full cup?  A cup and a half?  I ask, muscle testing for a yes, which means my left thumb and pinky stay strongly together when I try to separate them.

This is called applied kinesiology, it’s a feedback mechanism using the electrical field in our bodies, and it’s why pendulums work for this, too.

Above is a No.  Below is a Yes.

You can also guess how much more sugar by how sweet the fruit is to start with.  There’s no wrong answer.  Less sugar means a more tart flavor, which is how the Bearded One likes it.

I stir the additional sugar in — in this case, one more cup — bring the jam to a boil and let it boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  If foam starts to form on the top, I add a tablespoon of butter and keep stirring.

Then I remove it from the heat and stir it some more, at least five minutes, letting it cool down a bit.  This helps keep the fruit suspended in the thickening jam and avoids fruit float.  Pureeing the rhubarb is the other trick I’ve learned to battle fruit float.

Finally I ladle the jam into the hot jars, stir out the air bubbles, and secure a hot lid on with a threaded band.

I boil the jars in the covered canner for 10 minutes, then remove the canner from the heat and uncover it and let the jars sit for 5 more minutes in the hot water before removing them to the counter to cool and seal.  The lids make a “pop” when they seal, a few minutes to a half hour later, but don’t move the jars for hours.

At this point, I wipe my brow and step out on the deck for some fresh air.  The Bearded One is still up at the barn, prepping the meat bird coops for the 30 baby Cornish chicks we’re getting tomorrow.  He yells down something I miss, and I cup my hand behind my ear.

“Blood!” he hollers down to me.  He is actually, inexplicably, smiling.

I am horrified.  Has a chicken died?  I try to communicate my distress, my questions, across the vast distance between us.

“Puddles!” he shouts.  “Drained all the way down the trail!”

He’s talking some kind of short-hand. “What died?!” I shout back.  “Blood?”

He laughs loud, then forms a super hard “F” consonant and shouts back, “FLOOD!  FLOOD! The goats turned the water on!”

I laugh.  Communication is easier with Tasmania

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A Big Thank You to Momma Goose for helping us with our successful first round of 26 meat birds!  We harvested the last two on Friday, August 24.  They were 10-1/2 weeks old and estimated at 7-8 pounds each.  Momma Goose’s friend Dana from Louisiana was here helping, but she’s back in the stormy south now, so nice to meet you, Dana, thanks for the help and hang in there!