Sunday, October 3, 2010

Adventures in canning: Plum jam and pink grape juice

Yellow plum, blue plum, zinfandel jam...

A guest post from award-winning poet, essayist, and radio presenter, Molly Fisk. Molly gardens in Nevada City, California. Her beguiling radio essays are broadcast on KVMR-FM and collected on two CDs, Using Your Turn Signal Promotes World Peace and Blow-Drying a Chicken. Read her new poetry collection, The More Difficult Beauty, and see Molly on her West Coast book tour.

For the seventh year in a row, I did not enter my plum jam in the County Fair. I watched the deadline approach and then waved when it went past.

Partly this comes from being caught up in the usual hustle and bustle — who has time to fill out one more form? And partly it’s because not much was ready to pick in early August, when the Fair entries are due.

Everything ripened late this year because of a cold wet May, and now, of course, it seems to all be happening at once. There are still peaches in the farmer's markets, next to the pumpkins, and strawberries, of all things — even a few plums are still on the trees. A friend of mine who runs a restaurant went picking at a secret location with some of her staff and brought me back her overflow of an amazing pink seedless grape, to the tune of twenty pounds or so.

My kitchen, which was spotless for two days due to my procrastinating about something else, is now full of big plastic storage containers of grapes, colanders separating pulp from juice, the Cuisinart with which I pulverized the plum skins to an edible size, water baths on the stove boiling jars and lids, and some open bottles of zinfandel, which I add to everything.

My four now-teenaged kittens have learned to play soccer with strawberries bobbing in the sink as well as grapes that have leapt onto the floor, and there are sticky pawprints on every conceivable surface.

I can't tell you how happy this makes me.

One of the things I miss from my upbringing is the chaos we could get up to in my parent's kitchen cooking together. My friend Peggy and I would pick blackberries all over town and then make jam and pies, or we'd go after plums in our and our neighbors' yards and my mother would make Chinese plum sauce.

Just the idea of people doing huge messy kitchen projects that will result in something, whether it's temporary, like dinner, or lasting, like 30 jars of jam to give away for Xmas, makes me feel as though everything's right with the world.

Everything, of course, isn't really right with the world.

What might become of us is up in the air and I think that understanding permeates almost everyones' thoughts in some way, together with confusion about what to do about it.

A friend just wrote a poem about the BP Oil Spill and included a line referencing the day it started, April 10, 2010: “If it was the end of the world as we knew it, we didn't know it.” Maybe the end of the world has already started. I, for one, can't tell. And maybe my jam-making frenzy is a futile effort to try to be safe when there's no way to be safe. I might put up enough jam this week for two years worth of peanut butter sandwiches, but knowing how to preserve fruit isn't going to do me any good when we're out of water, much less jars, lids, sugar and Sure-Jell.

What's going to do me the most good regarding an uncertain future is curiosity, love of living, and a respect for my own capacity to change. Which is why I'm boiling an insane number of grapes on the stove this morning.

I've never made grape juice before. Have you?

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