Friday, July 17, 2009

Jam Babes - a tale

July 17, 2009

Friday. Busy day for LCM (me). Whoosh. I’m trying to get a step ahead and so am writing my next week’s note today. Tomorrow I will be in a meeting for the entire day (I’m joining the board of the North Carolina Outward Bound School and will be away from the internet and will not be able to write tomorrow anyway.)

I thought you might like to know about yesterday’s jam production. As it was unfolding I thought that if I imagined WRITING about it, it might be a bit less frustrating than it was feeling as it was happening. Let’s see how it goes.

My mother made Blueberry Jam every year. We lived on Blueberry Hill, after all, so it was a logical thing to do. My sisters and I picked the berries, sold them to my mother, who insisted there be no stems or leaves. She made them into jam which she packed in little round jars. We stuck the label on the jars and stacked them on a table in our living room next to stacks of my mother’s cook books and the postcards that my sisters and I made. I also made potholders and sold them. In the fall I picked apples from our apple trees and sold them to guests who were completely capable of going and picking their own. Hmm – I guess it’s safe to say that I have been in the selling business for quite some time.

I make jam each year. It brings me, in a quiet way, close to my mother. I always think of her and then when I make my jam. I have found those same jars. I follow my memory of her jam as I make mine now. Hers was not very sweet. Mine isn’t either. Her label was a solid color with simple print. Mine too. Making jam is usually a meditation for me. A reverie. A time to reflect. That’s how it usually is. Yesterday was not quite a meditation.

I don’t have time to pick berries now but I found a good source and saved the morning yesterday to make my jam. I reserved the local commercial (BIG) kitchen. I cleared my schedule. All good. Annie is here visiting and stepped up to be an associate “Jam Babe.” We got to work really early, loaded up the car and headed out to the jam making place.

We arrived ahead of the facility coordinator and that was a bit frustrating. Standing in a parking lot wanting to get it. Wanting to get going. Not able to. Ugh.

After not TOO long, in the big scheme of things, we did get in. Unpacked. Got a review of how to operate the machinery, and got going.

The berries, much to my annoyance, had more stems than I would have liked (my mother, as I said, did not allow ANY stems in the berries we picked and I’m a stickler for this.) Annie and I spent quite a while de-stemming berries. Ugh.

“Okay, don’t let it ruin your day!” I heard in my mind. That is what Emily, here in the office, tells me. I kept telling that to myself.

We finally went through all the berries and loaded up the big steam cooker and got the jam cooking. We got the jars unpacked and set up in the washing area. We got the lids ready. We got ourselves ready. We got everything in place. We calibrated the jar filler – with water. All good!

But when I went to get the first (the FIRST!) batch of hot jam, it splooshed out all over me and burned the HECK out of my arm! UGH!!!

“Don’t let it ruin your day!”
I got some ice. Arranged an portable ice bath for my arm.
Filled the jar filler.
Kept going.

Calibrating a jar filler with water is one thing but calibrating it with jam is a whole other situation. You fill this gigantic funnel. You turn the machine on. You see how full the jar is. Finding it not quite right, you adjust two screws. You turn the machine on again. You fill another jar. You see how your adjustment worked. You might need to turn those two screws again. You generally have to do this four or five times before you get it. All with boiling hot jam.

And then there is the matter of coordinating the actions of two people, hot jam, a filling machine, hot lids. A burned arm. Sigh. Annie was great, jumping in like a pro (she IS a cook too, so she fit right in and we were able to work smoothly.)

Once we got started we developed a rhythm. Scoop the hot berries out of the gigantic steam kettle. Fill the gigantic funnel. Get hot jars. Get hot lids. Fill the jars. Put the lids on. Repeat.

Four hours later we had made 288 jars of jam. I was, by then, pretty much covered in blueberry spatter. My face was a blue freckled mess. My shoes were blue. My shirt was spattered with blue. I was sticky. Hot. Annie fared better but she had a lot of blue splots too.

My mother hired off duty Airforce employees to make 25,000 jars of jam each summer. She took herself away from Blueberry Hill and spent the week on Cape Cod. Annie and I made 288 jars of jam. In four hours. And then I came back to work and got ready for our Farmer’s dinner (which was a lot of fun by the way.) My arm still stings but is getting better (try putting honey on a burn – it does a wonderful job.)

And now I’m off to help with Outward Bound. Jam will be available here pretty soon. As soon as I get time to print some labels. Watch for it in our shop area. It’s REALLY good. And if you ask nicely, I’ll show you my arm.

1 comment:

tara said...

Hi Laurey, I got a chance to meet you at last week's farmer's market under the Farm & Sparrow tent. Wanting to learn more about you and your business I ended up here on your blog. What rich insights and awesome inspiration! Thanks for posting and doing what you do! tara