I was devastated to learn that my favorite strawberry-picking patch had suffered a crop failure this year (really, devastated--C can attest to the "fact" that I lay prostrate on the couch, wine glass in one hand, cigarette in the other, mourning the failed fruits). After last year, crouching in the pouring rain, picking moldy berries, I was really ready for a fantastic berry year: I had my sugar, jars and lids all lined up. I read ahead in Putting Food By and learned what I have done wrong in the past (e.g., that brown, runny, not so sweet strawberry jam from last year? Not botulism, but Rapidura--that brownish natural cane sugar that I used instead of the real deal). Though I'm on a no-refined-sugar kick for the summer, I decided to make jam the old-fashioned way; I've tried various low- and no-sugar recipes with not that great of results and now I just want good, sweet, sparkly jam (that doesn't mold in the refrigerator after being open a few days). But, no berries.
I consoled myself with the visible signs that this will be a bumper blackberry year, ordered ahead two boxes of blueberries (while I will happily squat in a field for hours, peering under round green leaves for the red berries hiding underneath, I do not enjoy raking through the weeds to scoop up blueberries that will have to be sorted later from the leaves and bugs and deer poops) and bought strawberries at a farm stand on my way home from work. Probably not organic, but still very local. And I didn't have to do any of the work.
The first six boxes, we just ate as-is (except one batch of strawberry shortcake--berries sweetened with honey; biscuit and whipped cream sweetened with maple syrup). I bought a few more this week and made one batch of jam, and froze a few for future use--four berry jam later in the summer, and rhubarb pudding with strawberries (the rhubarb is in the freezer too; but that will require real sugar).
I tried the no-pectin jam from Putting Food By--4 cups berries to 4 cups sugar. Boil and boil and boil till it reaches 220 degrees. This year I boiled my jars ahead of time, and my funnel and my ladle and the lids and rings, just so I don't have to wince, wondering if someone might die from my jam tomorrow, if it comes out brown and runny again (I did not use Rapidura, but I did use the natural/organic sugar from the health food store, which is not white-white, but more of a beige).
Three quarts of berries. One small bag of sugar. Two hours of labor. Lots of dirty dishes. Four jars of jam. Kinda makes you wonder what's the point, doesn't it?
As it boiled along, and I stirred, and checked the temperature, and checked the instructions in the book, I though about Ma Ingalls (the boys and I are reading the Little House Books) and how she just KNOWS how to do things--cook and preserve food, even over a campfire. She makes cheese and sticks it outside with a rock for a weight. All without cookbooks or instructions. So much inherent knowledge we've lost with convenience foods and ready to eat and all the other busy-ness of our lives that doesn't allow time to watch and learn and understand and pass on. I guess that's the point.