I mark summer's passing by the making of jam: strawberry, when the world is still a riot of damp, fresh green; raspberry and blueberry at the halfway point; blackberry and peach as the lawn withers and the children's arms and legs turn to butterscotch, no matter how much sunscreen I torture them with. Ben is visibly alarmed by the back-to-school ads on the radio. He does an exaggerated double-take. "Are they kidding me?" He is offended, incredulous, despairing. Midway through a bike ride on Cape Cod last week, we stopped for ice cream and he was uncharacteristically moody--pushed his root-beer Italian ice away after only a few bites, grumped about the heat, slumped at the picnic table. "Do you need a little special attention?" I asked, which is what we've developed as an alternative to the question, "Why are you being such a pain in the ass?" (I notice this even in myself: sometimes it's easier to sulk and groan than to request the wrapping of arms around me.) Ben climbed into my lap, his long limbs splayed all over the place like a larger-than-life marionette with its strings gone slack. "What's up?" I asked, because seriously: sun, breeze, beach, bikes, clams--it was hard to understand. And he said, simply, "School." This happens to him every year when July click to August. I squeeze him, remind him that August is the longest month of the year, which makes him smile. But also I'm strangely glad here beneath him, surreptitiously gulping in the smell of his hot scalp, feeling his ribs beneath my forearms, the steadying thud of his heartbeat.
|Me and my pet giraffe.|
Last I wrote, it seems, I was agloat over our easy camping: Nobody needs us, life's a breeze! I gushed. But the last few weeks--a trip to visit my brother's family in North Carolina, a week in Wellfleet--I've felt a little empty-lapped. I've been missing the rhythm of the napping days: the easy excuse to disentangle a small, sleepy child from the fray, to lie down in a darkened afternoon room with the fan whirring softly and watch a beloved face flutter and drift. It's the way I used to feel about Michael, and still do: that no matter what the day brings, how much space or time between us, I know that at the end of it I will climb into bed with him and touch down. And now, with the kids: we spend so much time together--delicious, easy time--but I am missing the promise of that physical closeness, of the loving touch-down. I just miss it, that's all. They're busy people, these kids. They still hold my hand, they kiss me goodnight, I'm so lucky. I can't complain. I would never. But sometimes. I just miss my babies.
Makes 4-5 cups
This is a recipe I developed for FamilyFun, and it's in this month's issue along with a couple others, including Pool Noodle Salad, which I've made many times this summer. As for the jam, which is bright, fruity, and fantastic: there are lots of different kinds of pectin, and they all seem to work fine with this super-easy, fool-proof method.
4 cups crushed blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries (hulled). Crush the berries with a potato masher before measuring--it will likely take about a quart and a half of berries to make 4 cups crushed. If the strawberries are not crushably ripe, slice them first.
1 ½ cups sugar
1 pouch powdered or liquid pectin
Put the berries in a large, heavy pot. Stir together the sugar and pectin in a bowl (if you are using liquid pectin, skip this step), then stir the sugar and pectin thoroughly into the berry mixture. Bring the berries to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. You are looking for a full, rolling boil--the kind that can't be stirred down. Boil for one minute, then ladle the jam into very clean jars (leave an inch of headroom for expansion in the freezer), cap, cool to room temperature, and then use or freeze.
|These were strawberries we picked in late June. We've eaten all it already but a half inch left in one jar.|
|Hulling and mashing the berries is a good job for a child. Ben made this entire batch of jam, start to finish, and he could not believe how easy it was.|
|Into the pot with you!|
|I like freezer jam because you can use much less sugar than you'd need to if you were wanting to can it properly.|
|"I don't understand the part about the boil you can't stir down," Ben said, and then said, a minute later, "Oh, okay, now I do."|
|If you get serious about jam, a canning funnel is a nice thing to have.|
|Jam on bread.|
|Any berry, left to right: raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, blueberry.|