Monday, August 08, 2011

Any-Berry Jam (the melancholy version)

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.

Any-Berry Jam
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.

We couldn't possibly eat all that before the summer's over!

Any berry, left to right: raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, blueberry.


  1. Your jars are very cute. I made pickles this morning for the Back to School Meet and Greet on Thursday. You can tell Ben that we're going back on Monday, and that most of the schools around here returned TODAY!

    This summer I preserved a bushel of SC peaches: preserves, jam and for the first time, pickled peaches. I did strawberries the last week of May. My laundry room counters are stacked high with Ball boxes.

    Did you read the canning article in Brain, Child?

  2. Angela12:46 PM

    Berry jam - yum! We could eat a lot more than that in a summer though (and, ahem, do...). Thanks for the wise words about missing the small-child-on-lap - I will stop feeling squashed and hot under my four-year-old and enjoy it will it lasts!! For of course it won't last forever...

  3. Sigh. I hear you on the melancholy.

    However (my kids being a few years younger than yours), I often have to remind myself when I'm a tangle of sweat and small limbs, that there won't always be a child touching my body.

  4. I love this idea about asking if one needs special attention rather than why one is being such an asshole. I could have used such a question directed to ME last night. And you're right, it was hard- too hard, apparently- to simply say to my husband, "Hey, I'm feeling really crabby, and a little mad at you about a bunch of little stuff, but if you would come hug me and say nice things I would totally get over it."

  5. I remember being in bed with my newborn daughter, and being struck by the idea of the intimacy parents have with their children. There are really so extremely few people in the world that you can by so physically and emotionally connected to. A baby sleeping on your chest is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. And now I grapple my own gangly giraffes and feel the same wistfulness that they're outgrowing me.

  6. This one made me cry. Not just feel that pang, not just well up, but actually cry. Oh just for a few hours with the chubby little baby body all over me again. I think it's really having a kid that turns you from someone that wants things to speed up into someone who wants everything to slow down. Thank you, again.

  7. I remember when you posted that peach jam and I remember can do that? I just always thought you had to actually "can" it. I had these big plans to make some to freeze but never did. I am so making this one, though.

  8. elandsimom4:20 PM

    Me and my pet giraffe. Isn't that the truth, though?! I laughed out loud - it is exactly how I feel more and more - I am constantly commenting on the LONGNESS OF THE LEGS - and other slightly sentimental musings of a mother of growing children.

  9. Anonymous8:33 PM

    Catherine. My dear dear friend Catherine. It does not matter a wit that we have never met in person, you are my/our dear friend. I was, mere moments before reading your post, not even yet knowing there would be a post from you to read, and not knowing what it would be about... I was looking at photos of my babies... and... missing them. Just now I felt not as much needed, when my 6 yr old wants to, for the 2nd night in a row, read Farmer Boy herself. (I know you have a LIW fanclub in your fam too.) I am proud, so darn proud, that my 6 and 8 yr olds are reading by themselves, by choice, right now in their beds.... and sad, wistful, for the change to me not reading.... ouch. It hurts. It is also wonderful. And it hurts. Thank goodness, I think alllll the time, for yearssss now, that I have Catherine Newman to let me know that another mom feels the same exact exact way. Sigh.
    (from 2kidslife)

  10. Oh Catherine, I have missed you this summer. My personal computer freezes on blogspot every single time I try to use it, so I have to wait until school time approaches, and I am back to work, grabbing a few moments here and there to check in. I feel like Ben... and you... Take care, summer comes again so quickly.

  11. Wow. So worth the wait, I checked the blog tonight hoping for something uplifting to take my mind off all the financial news I keep choosing to read and I was not only momentarily distracted, I was completely blown away. As in, your post was so amazing its what I'm fixating on now. So thank you for that. Your writing is such an inspiration and such a welcome reminder of all that's really important.

    You gave me a lovely place to touch down tonight.

  12. I miss my babies too sometimes.

  13. First, you look awesome. Love that giraffe photo.
    Second, we use the same thing, only in our house, it's "Who needs a hug?" And the boys know, if they don't want to be humiliated in front of their friends by long doting hugs and "awwwwww, there, there"s, they need to shape up. And most days, at home, when crabby, they fall in to the hug and I am grateful every time.

  14. Maybe it's the time of year? Count me in on the melancholy. Kids in grades where they don't need me to read with them, youngsters riding bikes without training wheels and not needing to be pushed on the swing, and as of today no more one-year-olds in my house. I don't wish them backwards--I love who they are and love to see them soar--but my lap and my arms feel empty.

  15. Anonymous11:52 AM

    Maybe it IS the time of the year--I've been watching old home movies and weeping for those bald heads and two-teethed, drippy grins. This is a fun age, and exciting, but if there was some way to invent a time machine to go back just for a few hours and hold one of my sleeping babies on my chest, I would do it in a heartbeat.

  16. . I love this. I'm been feeling sad and a little bit panicky this week because I noticed that my daughter, who is the same age as Birdie, is developing the first signs of puberty. (Not fair!!!! D*mn that good health and nutrition!) I can't believe my little girl is moving towards womanhood.

  17. Anonymous9:50 PM

    Will absolutly remember this post next time I feel like screaming "Please Get Off Of Me!!" (which with a 4 yr old, 2 yr old and 9 month old is often!).

  18. I have a 3-year-old who still likes to put his whole giant self on me all the time, and I'm trying to enjoy it more after reading this post, although I already mostly still love it. I was rereading Waiting for Birdy not long ago, and realized that my own little-ish guy does something Ben used to do (not to increase the melancholy for you or anything): he wants to hold a big handful of my hair while he sucks his thumb.

  19. Anonymous1:21 AM

    Jam! But now I'm really crying. My babies are still little (8, 4.5, 18 months) but I pre-miss them.

  20. after reading your post, i collapsed on the rug in tears. please tell ben i don't want to go back to school either...

  21. I thought I replied already, but then remembered I couldn' just hit home I guess. You always know exactly what to say and exactly what we are thinking in the most delightful way.

  22. Anonymous4:37 PM

    I spent a day with my boys in the early summer making strawberry jam. It makes breakfast feel special every day.

    My boys are suddenly excited about school. I think they have spent too much time together this summer at camp and are ready for some time apart.

  23. dale in denver7:15 PM

    I gave my 3 boys their school supply lists and let them go at it. Boy was that an effective way to get them excited about starting school on Monday!

    This week we found an audio tape of my now 8 year old when he was 3 singing ABCs with grandma and admonishing her, "No gradma, I can do it." Angelic voice that is gone forever - I highly recommend people get their kids on audio in addition to video and pics. It is so touching. Then, later in the week, my 5 year old was so clingy when we were watching his 10 year old brother play in a golf tournament. It was hot and humid and sticky and I just wanted to peel him off of me and run away to some cool shade. But, knowing this wellspring of extra loving could dry up any time, I did my best to savor his parasitic lovin'.

    Thanks for the reminder of how we miss our babies when they get to be big kids.

  24. Nikki8:40 PM

    When my 4 year-old was in the throes of being 3, I had to come up with a way to snap him out of his tantrums and fits. One day I explained that he had a love tank and that sometimes when he was feeling angry or sad or frustrated, that it just might need a refill. He immediately calmed down and asked me to fill it up. Filling it up consists of lots of hugging, kissing, and general loving on that sweet child. Now if he's getting upset he'll exclaim, "Mama, I need a refill!" It's a great way to take a break from the situation and push the "reset" button. I dread the day he's too old or too cool for this, as my 7 year-old is so NOT into it, so I love the version of saying "do you need some special attention". Sigh...I'm melancholy too.

  25. Anonymous10:08 PM

    My soon-to-be 1st grade son said the other day, "I'm so excited about 1st grade! I already feel smarter!" And then the next day, "I feel nervous about 1st grade because I don't know what it will be like." Today he told me that we should both just get really sick (cough, cough) and never have to go back to school again. Sigh. He's so bittersweet and sentimental, just like his mama.

  26. You look so summery, fabulously, beautiful in that shot! (and I'm on to make the zucchini cake)

  27. Sigh.... and I miss hearing you talk about your babies. This post made me smile and tear up. Time, it sure does pass doesn't it?

  28. Anonymous11:36 PM

    I love this jam! I have made strawberry, blueberry, and blackberry/raspberry multiple times. Thank you for sharing your recipe and for bringing joy to my day.