Plum jam can-do spirit alive again

SATURDAY, AUG. 27, 2011

I’m in a jam.

I’m making plum jam, and I haven’t made jam in a long time. But it’s kind of like riding a bicycle, so in reacquainting myself with a once very familiar process, I feel both confident and cautious.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up believing jam came with a Smucker’s label and in three flavors – strawberry, grape and peach. The only homemade jam I ever sampled was from a jar of plum jam my dad brought home from a business trip. Unfortunately, he must have been a little oopsy with the transportation, because after I spread some of the exotic stuff on my toast, I chomped down on chunks of glass. Surprise! I can still feel that awful crunch. But given that the jam came in a jar from far away, it didn’t connect that an individual had made it in a kitchen like ours.

In my mid-twenties, I came home from work one day to discover that my roomie had made strawberry jam. It tasted fantastic, and she said it was easy to make. Really? I begged her to teach me and she supervised my first batch.

I was hooked. Graphic artist and writer by vocation, and summer jam-maker by avocation.

Every year I’d make several batches of strawberry, plum and apricot jam, and then apple butter in the fall. The jars of the delicious “fruits of my labor” were like beautiful gems, and it was satisfying to see them on my shelves. They were welcome Christmas gifts that delighted coworkers and friends. “Just return the jar, and I’ll fill it again next year,” I’d promise.

When Richard and I moved to the Valley, the abundance of fruit inspired me, and I added new jams to my repertoire. There were hits and misses. Hand-squeezing the guts out of several pounds of bitty red Concord grapes to cook innards and skins separately for jelly and laboriously milling seeds out of raspberries convinced me that some flavors were simply worth buying. And my experiment with apple jelly was a complete bust. It didn’t jell, so I ended up giving jars of apple syrup to friends with kids.

I had to give up on making jam in the mid-’90s, but thought wistfully about it every year. Though there are fantastic jam products sold these days, there’s nothing like the fragrance of cooking fruit permeating the house, the purity of homemade flavor, and a shelf full of luscious jam I’ve made myself.

This summer I’ve again succumbed to the siren call of homemade fruity goodness. I’m making made plum jam in my jammies, with the early morning sun slanting through our kitchen, under strict cat supervision.

So why am I in a jam?

Unfortunately, confident has trumped cautious, and I’ve goofed it big time. Instead of checking the instructions and adding pectin to the fruit first, I’ve instead poured in the sugar. Oh no! Well, doggone it, I haven’t gone through all the anticipation, expense, and schlepping and prepping to just dump it all with nothing to show for it. Onward and upward.

I quickly begin scooping out as much sugar from the pan as I can, some of it saturated and stiff with plum juice. Then I add the pectin, and religiously follow the recipe, hoping for the best. To my great relief, the jam turns out fine and I have 10 ruby-colored jars of yummy plum jam. Thank you, Sure-Jell, for making a literally fool-proof product.

I was in a jam, now I’ve made the jam, and now I get to eat the jam.

And it’s plum good!

You can reach Deborah Chan at tabbytoes@comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/columnists/

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