For the love of berries: another “remembrance of things past”

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Going back to this blog to write about food and the pleasures of eating and drinking – to write about life – is not easy after a week of grief, following the death of a friend. I needed time to heal from sadness, and now I’m glad to be back. Also, on the plus side, my job has kept me very busy, and I’m grateful for that. Being so busy, I had less time to cry while thinking about my friend, and I channeled my energy into my work and my new responsibilities as a school tutor.  It is difficult but not impossible, and I’m working on it – taking it step by step, one day at a time.

Another thing which helped was that I couldn’t wait to write about my next topic: raspberry jam. It is a topic dear to me because my family has canned for as long as I can remember. I’ve already told you about my aunt. She was great at canning, and she would spend the summers at her house in the countryside canning and pickling, roasting peppers and eggplants, dehydrating apples and plums – making sure nothing from her garden went to waste. I remember her sitting under the old quince tree, sorting through the apples and pears, slicing them coarsely, throwing them into pots, and adding lots of sugar. There was an energy about her which was really enticing, and all her sweat and hard-work had a noble purpose: to create delicious and nutritious food for her loved ones.

Whenever I make jam I also look back fondly to the years I spent in England. There are many charming things about the British way of life, and the way in which the Brits have their “tea” with fresh scones, butter and jam is certainly one of them. I remember buying scones from the supermarket in the early days, when I didn’t know how to make them, and rushing home for a hot “cuppa.” I cut open the scones, toasted them briefly, then put Irish butter on both sides and let it melt. I spread generous layers of jam on my scones and served them with my tea. The combined flavors of the jam and the melted butter were heaven on a plate…

The idea to make raspberry jam came to me a couple of weeks ago, when I found berries on sale at the local grocery store. One of my aunt’s “golden rules” when making jams and preserves, was to always use equal quantities of fruit and sugar. I bought six 6oz containers of raspberries, so I had 36oz in total, which equaled 4.5 cups. As per the “golden rule,” I used 4.5 cups of granulated sugar.

Ingredients

4.5 cups raspberries

4.5 cups granulated sugar

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I did not have the time to make the jam immediately, so I put the raspberries in a deep bowl along with the sugar, and I left them in the refrigerator overnight. I know some canning aficionados recommend leaving the raspberries with the sugar in the fridge for a few days, in order for the berries to get ample opportunity to release their natural juices prior to cooking.

The next day, the berries looked as pretty as ever:

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I put the berries and the sugar in a large deep pot (you’ll need a large pot to make the jam). I put the pot on the stove top on medium-to-high heat. The berries started releasing their natural juices a few minutes into cooking:

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Five minutes later, the berries were quickly losing their texture…

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…and things were getting syrupy:

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Fifteen minutes into cooking, the soon-to-be-jam reached boiling point, and I turned down the heat:

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Twenty-five minutes from starting, the ruby red raspberry “lava” was getting thicker and had a darker color:

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I just love this color – and I love the smell, too!

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Five more minutes passed and the jam looked beautiful, albeit foamy at the top (this foam contains air and has a much thinner consistency than the jam itself). I collected the foam with a spoon and I put it aside.

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Forty-five minutes after starting the process, it was about time for me to check whether the jam was done. I used the good old “cold plate test:” I took a spoonful of hot jam and put it on a cold plate. I let the jam cool down for a minute or so, and then I took a spoon and ran it through the center of the jam. If the jam doesn’t flood back in to fill the center, it’s done:

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I know it is recommended to use pectin in this jam, but I have never seen my aunt or my mother use pectin, and I don’t think they ever felt the need to add it. I believe pectin is unnecessary since the raspberries have enough pectin on their own. As you could see from above, my jam had a thick consistency without the addition of extra pectin.

After forty-five minutes, the jam was done.  I think I’m going to make another batch soon.

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This jam doesn’t last long in our house, and I usually store it in the refrigerator. We mainly eat it over crepes and on fresh toast, with butter. I also like to eat a few teaspoons when I’m in a rush, as a quick dessert.

One of these days I’m going to write about my aunt’s delicious quince marmalade – and maybe I’ll write about scones too. There are so many memories in everything we cook, and I, for one, am glad this is the case. To me, fall is a time of intense remembrance and nostalgic reflection, and these memories fit the underlying theme of the season nicely.

A hint of jam, a humble crumb, a drop of tea – like Proust’s famous madeleine, each one of these has the potential to remind us of people and places, if we let them to.

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