How to feel triumphant

8 Comments 12 September 2011

The trick to feeling triumphant? Do something you are afraid of doing. Or do something you didn’t think you could do. Or do something you were told you wouldn’t be able to do.

And it doesn’t have to be something that inspires awe in the masses, just something you previously had on the No Go list. The List of Things To Avoid. For me, one of the things on that list is making jams and jellies.

Disappointed? I’ll bet there’s loads of people reading this post who just said, ‘So what?! What’s the big deal about making jams and jellies?’

When I was little I watched my grandma and my mom canning food. It was a big process involving the scary pressure cooker and lots of steam and lots of frowning concentration, because the steam was Hot and if jars weren’t steralised people could get very Sick. It was Best If I Went To Play Outside.

When I was older I had food poisoning. On more than one occasion and both times I traced it back to what was probably poor hygiene in a restaurant kitchen.

I hated having food poisoning.

But I knew that good hygiene prevented food poisoning. You should see how I clean my kitchen after handling raw meat. My family is very tolerant. If they watch my frantic decontamination for too long I start in on a defensive ‘you don’t want food poisoning do you? I guarantee you don’t want food poisoning. You’ll have it one day, and it will be because of poor hygiene somewhere and you’ll realise how important it is to…‘ they’ve already silently crept out of the kitchen by this point.

I love the trend of kitchen gardens, foraging in hedgerows, and making domesticity chic. I think the idea of a house full of baking smells, a garden full of produce and a door covered in an arch of roses sounds like a really lovely English ideal. It’s the stereotypes from Before (the years before I lived in the UK) that I still can’t–and don’t want to, shake. It’s a Liberty Print life, a Cath Kidston pattered table cloth, a rosy cheeked gusto and a chin chin attitude that is so appealing, in parts.

I don’t think I’m alone, and I don’t think it’s just an expat thing. More and more people are making jams and jellies now, taking advantage of all the craze for home grown fruit and vegetables. Fab! It’s lovely and wonderful that we’re such a world of homemakers. Except I couldn’t bear the idea of making something with improperly steralised equipment, handing out my jar of plum jam only to be handing out a dose of food poisoning as well. How awful. I avoided it when all around me were happily preserving away. Yes, Mom and Grandma managed it, but they were Mom and Grandma, ’nuff said.

This year I stood in my garden watching all the bushels of fruit ripening and said to myself, ‘maybe this year…‘ then conveniently my (step)daughter gathered it all up to make jams for favours for her wedding next year. Oh well, maybe I’ll try next year.

But I was not to be let off so easily. My time was clearly now: I was at a very domestic friend’s house recently, babbling on about how I wished I could organise myself enough to make some jam when she showed me a big basket full of what looked like mini Red Delicious apples. They were a type of crab apple I hadn’t seen before, red all the way through. She gave them to me so I could make some jelly. Hurrah.

They sat on my kitchen counter nearly a week. I would have to lie to her about them. I had to accept I was just too nervous to make jams or jellies.


The amazing pink-all-the-way-through crabapples.

Absentmindedly, I Googled crab apple recipes. The predominant thing to do with them was make jelly. Which is even more complicated than jam. Fantastic. But something about that extra little nudge of the Impossible made me put my hands on hips, and turn and stare at the crab apples with a new attitude.

I made a decision. I would be brave and I would conquer this fear.

And so I did. And yes, I was a bit uptight about the process but I did it and they look quite pretty. And the jelly tastes fantastic (we’ve had it with chicken and on toast so far–everyone is still healthy). Triumph! It was a pat on the back moment for me. Conquering a fear, no matter how trivial, is quite nice.

What fear are you going to conquer?

crabapple jelly

Minky must always be allowed to inspect what all the fuss is about.

Now if you’re interested in the recipe, it is from Heather Grieg:

Recipe for Spiced Crab Apple Jam

Makes about 8 jars

2kg (4½ lb) crab apples

2.5 litres (4½ pints) water

16 whole cloves

8 pieces cinnamon

2 star anise

about 2kg (4½ lb) of preserving sugar


1 Wash apples and cut out any bad bits. Cut larger apples in half. Put all the ingredients except the sugar in a large preserving pan.

2 Bring to the boil then cover pan with a foil lid and simmer until soft and pulpy – about 40min.

3 Strain for 8 hours or overnight in a jelly bag over a large bowl. DO NOT SQUEEZE THE BAG.

4 Measure the juice back into the pan and add 500g sugar for every 500ml of the juice. Stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved then bring back to a brisk boil.

5 Boil rapidly for about 10-15 min. It should then show some reluctance to come off the spoon. Do not boil for longer than 20min.

6 Skim the top with a metal spoon to take off any scum, and then ladle into hot, sterilised jars, cover and seal.



Your Comments

8 Comments so far

  1. Expat Mum says:

    Typically, mine is not “domestic” at all, as you’d expect, but I’m going to conquer my fear of yoga. I keep taking up yoga, then something happens to derail me, like a pulled back or a shoulder problem. Ironic really, given that yoga is supposed to make you stronger. It’s been so long since I’ve done yoga now, I’m almost afraid to go back to a class. I’m so stiff I will look like a fool and I won’t be as bendy as everyone else!

    • Michelloui says:

      Good one! That’s a very healthy goal as well (way better for you that jelly…). I shall expect posts documenting your success!

  2. Shelley says:

    I feel sort of the same way about sewing clothes from scratch, or even tailoring something already made. Not that I’m scared of food poisoning, but afraid of wasting money, material, time, basically scared of failing. I go to a crafting group of about a dozen older ladies who all retired from a sewing factory. What they don’t know about sewing probably isn’t very necessary, so after two years, I’ve finally found a pattern and some muslin fabric (all those giant curtains at thrift stores here in Britain are lined with muslin, so not a great expense risk). I’m sure it won’t be perfect but I think I’ve accepted that I have to practice the skill in order to acquire it.

    As for food poisoning, I’ve had it a couple of times and yes it’s yucky. The thing is, I’ve never heard of food poisoning from preserved fruit. Salmonella from eggs and chickens and pet reptiles, yes; e-coli from undercooked hamburger; botulism from home canned tomatoes; bacillus cereus from leftover rice; staph aureus, Norwalk virus, claustridium perfringens, scombotoxins…yes, but not associated with homemade preserves. If it’s food poisoning that scares you about this, why not read up on how to do it at the library and maybe do some reading at or other websites to answer any questions you have. Just an idea… I’ve been reading about sewing for years!

  3. jenny says:

    glad you faced your fear and gave this a shot!! canning is something I learned about from watching my grandmother—like you. Unfortunately I am also a little intimidated to try on my own! not fearful, just not really willing (yet) to put up with the hassle of it all, and i have no easy bulk supplies of veggies and fruit. I make freezer jam, though, which is much easier and much less worry about sealing them properly.If you have any doubts or just want some peace of mind, you can always store your jelly in the freezer (although I would loosen the lids first so they don’t burst during freezing).

    Also, in regards to the previous poster (and not trying to scare you!!), while there may not be any sorts of food poisoning associated with properly preserved fruit, improperly preserved fruit can go bad the same as any other fruit. If you feel the need, just examine them for signs of spoilage before eating, and if something seems off (color, weird fermenting smell, etc) then obviously don’t eat it. If you followed the instructions, used the right type of jars and lids, make sure all the lids are sealed properly, and use common sense, there’s really no need to worry! I’m sure yours turned out great!! I hope you enjoy them!

    • Michelloui says:

      Thank you Jenny–I’ve seen the freezer jam mentioned quite a few places in my googling, I will check it out!

  4. globetrotter says:

    You survived a hacking and came out on top! That’s a pretty good reason to me, to feel triumphant!

  5. Thanks for sharing the jam recipe, it sounds amazing! Im glad to hear you managed to do something you had never planned and had never wanted to do. Well done you! :)

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An American writer in the UK for over 20 years. Lives in Essex. A pretend extrovert.

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