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.
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?
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.