In a Jam

Strawberry Jam

Everything becomes a “son of a bitch” when it is hot outside and you have just scalded yourself for the fifth time while making jam.  Earlier in the day, it had seemed like a good idea to take on yet another culinary project, since as of late I have neglected my domestic goddess.  Matt, ever the practical one, was a bit concerned:

“How do we know it’s going to turn out?” he asked.  He eyed the canner as if it were a homemade bomb.

I gave him my very best “honey do” look and said, “How hard can it be? Mash the berries! Cook them! Stick them in the jars,” I said.

Thirty minutes into the jam-making experiment, I was singing a different tune.  It sounded a lot like “It’s a Small World,” but with a whole lot of swear words added in for good measure.  Our kitchen had transformed itself into the bowels of hell as the steam rose like an eerie fog, lit from beneath by the flickering light.  On the stove, boiling water popped and hissed.  We ran frantically from counter to stove a factory conveyor belt of two.

“Lid!” called Matt.

I dunked the metal clamps into the boiling pot, shielding my face from the steam and cursed as another splash of water scalded me on the wrist.  As I hopped across the floor and dropped the lid onto the jar, I wondered what could have possessed me to make jam on a hot summer day.

Meanwhile, Matt fished around in the canning pot for another jar.  “Shit!” he said, as a jar slipped out of the tongs and splashed into the water.  “It’s like bobbing for apples, but with third degree burns!”

We laughed.  Yet another ridiculous kitchen experiment gone awry…

It wasn’t until we had filled all of our jars with strawberry jam, its ruby contents gleaming in the sunlight that we had a terrible realization.

Matt hunched down to eye-level with the jars and wrinkled his nose.  It was a disapproving sort of wrinkle.  “What’s that white stuff?” he said.

I bent to look at it too.  “Google it,” I offered.

But Google didn’t have any answers.  Suddenly, the kitchen was cloying, the air seemingly evaporated leaving only a hot, sticky mess of crimson splayed across the walls, our shirts and the floor as if a massacre had taken place.

It was looking grim, to say the least.

Matt shrugged.  “Just keep going, I guess.”

“It’s not safe!” I said, “Botulism does not make a nice gift!”

“It won’t be botulised!”

“How do you know?”

“I know.”

“But HOW?”

We both eyed the strawberry jam.

“I guess we’ll have to take a chance,” said Matt.

I sighed.  “Fine,” I said.  “But if it’s poison, let’s say you made it.”

Another twenty minutes of processing and boiling (and cursing) later, the jam jars sat out on the counter.  They looked innocent, peaceful, like rubies in a forbidden temple.  (You know, before Indiana Jones removes them only to release a giant crushing boulder).  We both just kind of stared at them, unsure of whether or not the jam would be awesome of poisonous.

And then something miraculous happened: there was a click.  One lid had sealed, meaning it wasn’t going to turn into poisonous muck in my pantry.  More clicks rang out through the kitchen—the sound of success, tiny rounds of applause.  Success at last! We’d made jam, not poison!

Is it possible to relate jam back to writing?  I think so.  You see, lately, I’ve been shambling around in the drift of my latest story.  It’s felt weird, because I haven’t exactly known whether or not I was on the right track.  There have been some tense moments, too, where I wondered if I would have to start all over again and scrap what I had written.  But when I think about the jam jars and that satisfying pop that they made when I knew that they were just right, it struck me that plotting a story (when writing in the drift) is a lot like making jam for the first time.  There are a lot of times when I have no idea what I’m doing, but I keep on muddling through the drift until the story…clicks into place.  So what do you do when you’re in a jam for plotting?  Keep on wading through.  It may be a son of a bitch to get through, but it sure as hell is sweet when it all clicks into a place.


  1. Lauren! Loved this! I could SO picture the frenzy and then the satisfying pops! I love your imagery and play with words. Love you too. Write on!
    PS It’s truly as hot as hades here…be glad you made the escape!

    1. Thanks Aunt Barb! Glad you stopped by to check it out 🙂 It’s bizarrely chilly here (today anyway) for Canada Day weekend, so I’m kind of missing the heat…

  2. This is just so familiar … perhaps you might find it easier to sterilise your jars in the oven in future (much easier) but you will still have to boil the lids.

    Nice parallels drawn between writing and jam-making and just think, one day you will be really slick at both!

      1. Wash them in soapy water, rinse and put them wet into the oven and turn it on and heat it up to Gas Mark 3 or 160 degrees centigrade. Leave them at that temp for 10 mins and then fill them whilst still hot (to prevent cracking – use oven mitts). Bring the lids to the boil in a pan and boil for 5 mins.
        You can also sterilise them in the dishwasher as that has very high temperatures too or even the microwave.
        I use them for making Date and Marrow chutney every year. Good luck, Lauren!

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