Last year we built a fortress, created to deter deer, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, and wild pigs from our own little slice of edible possibility. Today we are in the middle of planting our spring garden in this enclosure, now just a blank, dark dirt slate of bumpy rows and discarded piles of weeds. Shaping the earth is like frosting a chocolate cake, at least to this baker’s mind, and has inspired my next birthday party creation. Right now, though, it is time to focus on what plants will grow.
Dave spent at least the last month researching, sorting, and picking out seeds, some from his own collection and some from rare seed catalogues and websites. So far, we have some old standbys such as carrots, beets, lettuces, radishes, turnips and an unintended sugar-snap pea hybrid from saved seed; and some new editions like asparagus, fenugreek, cumin, and a cilantro from Oaxaca. Dave enjoys the excitement of the seed selection process in much the same way some of us might find joy in the finest Parisian patisserie (there I go again with the baked goods). To say the least, we now have a ridiculously large stock of potential food, awaiting the elements to bring life. No matter what we actually choose though, it is always a wild card what will actually grow, flourish, and become. Some winter squash seeds from a few years ago became a hybrid this last season, morphing from a basic butternut (or what we thought was basic) to an interesting and delicious mystery.
The newness of spring also brings new ideas of what we will soon eat, and projects of how to make these gems last as long as they can. Will we finally start our homemade grapefruit bitters for cocktails? How about more preserved Meyer lemons with some interesting herbs? Or maybe just classic pickled beets with a touch of clove? But right there lays the nexus of a problem I find myself grappling with time and again. After the harvest, the glean, the washing and prep, the brining and boiling and sealing and storing, I can’t bring myself to actually EAT what I have made. It is too special. I find myself saving it for the ultimate occasion and then before I know it, another season has arrived along with another cratefull of the very same produce that is caged within my mason jars. Some could compare this self-inflicted issue to saving a nice bottle of wine too long, year after year for that one perfect moment, instead of enjoying it at its recommended prime. Fellow Civil Eats contributor and environment editor Aaron French recently touched upon this issue, citing a Harvard Business Review article about “how people place an unreasonably high value on products they made or assembled themselves” via “The IKEA Effect”. The lesson for me is to start treating every day like it’s worthy of jam, no matter how rare or involved or alone or hurried things may be.
So here is a recipe for preserves that I am entitling “Jam for NOW”. Write that in thick black Sharpie on the top of your canning lids and follow the command. Use the finest fruit you can get your hands on, and even if you only get enough to make a couple of jars, listen to your deepest inner voice when it declares, “I want blackberry jam on my toast today!”
Jam for NOW
(Makes about 4 pints)
9 cups fresh blackberries (or any other berry or combination)
6 cups sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Wash the berries, making sure to remove any with signs of mold, and place in a large, non-aluminum saucepan. Crush the berries (or blend with an immersion blender). Add sugar and lemon juice. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved. Cook until desired thickness is achieved, stirring to prevent burning. Remove from heat and fill hot jam into hot, sterile jars, leaving ¼-inch space from the top. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean towel before securing each with a two-piece canning lid. Process the jars for about 10 minutes in boiling water to seal. Remove from water with tongs and let sit on a countertop to cool before storing.