So it turns out I didn’t learn to grout this past weekend and I did have time to make jam [wife edits: recipe for Blue Raspberry Jam with Chambord to follow diatribe – skip to the end foodies – No? Then fair warning]. The universe responds in mysterious ways when you put out a call. True story (I can’t make this stuff up). Last week, as the Gearhead was wandering [wife edits: moping] around the house carrying his injured body around like a bird with a broken wing, and lamenting the “list of things to do”, he expressed his need for a new pet, a cat or a dog [gearhead edits with expression of pity for those of us (the wife) who really don’t understand: “you totally underestimate the healing power of pets!”] “And firewood, we need to get going on the wood!” [wife edits: agree, I hate freezing in the winter. But disagree completely about a dog or cat – we’ve been pet free for almost 2 months and I’m just getting the last of the hair out of the couch. Do you know how much of a watershed moment that is?!].
Then Ruby Tuesday showed up; a pug [wife edits: pig] looking for a new home. I won’t risk putting her picture here – this is a food blog [wife edits with thumping fist: damn it!], not a pedestal for pet adoration.[gearhead edits: I thought this was a blog about me][wife edits: can’t you see I’m writing about raspberry jam?!]. Ruby arrived complete with food, bowls, crate, blanket, a leash and a promise that if she didn’t settle in within the week she’d move on to the next patsy with a country home. Of course, she settled in quickly.
Too early the next morning, we discovered one of our massive maple trees had dropped a branch (tree-sized itself) onto the electrical wires outside our house. The tree was smoking and in my not so freshly wakened state, as I stood, pajama clad, surveying the scene of running firemen, holding the leash attached to the new pug, I turned my head toward the field to see a tiny kitten running at me like a lover under a sunset. The Gearhead paused to scoop up the kitten and place it in my hands, “see, now we have a cat too.” he said, and moved off with considerable swiftness beyond the periphery of retort. I raised my eyes heavenward uttering not so heavenly things into the listening ears of the little animals, but then, becoming mindful of the recently beneficent universe (a dog, a cat, firewood, no grouting), I sidestepped from underneath the maple branch above me. Hey, no use tempting fate.
Thankfully, a neighbour agreed to take the kitten. As I stood, breathing in the crème brulee smell of burning sugar maple I thought two things: 1) why don’t pajamas have a pocket for lipstick (?)… that volunteer fireman over there…let’s go talk with him, shall we Ruby? And 2) never underestimate the capacity of a canine as a vessel of warmth and understanding when you pour out vitriol like water – ah those liquidy, chocolate brown eyes of wisdom in your pushed in pug face. Okay Mr. Gearhead, maybe I am beginning to understand…
Raspberry Jam – I know it’s a bit of a jump from that last paragraph to this one, but we did it together and don’t you still feel okay? I do. I make this jam every summer – I note in my OCD way that raspberry jam making always occurs around July 25th. I know this because, yes, I write it down. This recipe is loosely adapted from one in a gem of a preserving book written by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard called, The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving . It’s fast and manageable in an evening (even after making dinner) and produces four 250ml/8 ounce jars or so. I usually make a double batch and get 9 cups of jam. Doubling the recipe works just as well as a single batch. I like to put half the jam in 250ml jars and the second half in smaller, 125 ml jars. The smaller jars look like little jewels and are given away as special treasures whenever we get invited to someone’s house for dinner (hint hint). Don’t be alarmed by the amount of sugar in equal proportions to jam – we don’t eat vats of the stuff – a single teaspoon atop your morning toast or stirred into plain yogurt is still less than the 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily limit guideline for women (9 for men) [wife edits: yes I’m looking at you my public health peeps – moderation in all things].
Blue Raspberry Jam with Chambord
The intense perfume of this jam is beguiling. Pay close attention to the timing in the steps – that and the warmed sugar ensures success.
4 cups/1 Litre/1 Quart blue raspberries (or red – they’re basically the same, the blues are just a darker purple colour and taste slightly more like violets to my mind – and they spoil faster for some reason that I’ll obsessively look up later but will spare you, dear reader, from waiting)
4 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Chambord (black raspberry liquor made in France) – of course this is optional
Wash five 250ml/8 oz glass jars and snap lids (or other vessels to hold 4-5 cups finished jam) in warm soapy water. Place the jars on a baking sheet.
Place sugar in an ovenproof shallow pan (I use a glass pyrex dish) and warm in a 250F/120C oven for 15 minutes. (Warm sugar dissolves better and keeps the jam boiling evenly). Place a small plate or two in the freezer in preparation for testing the jam.
Place berries in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a full boil over high heat , mashing berries with a potato masher as they heat – they turn a glorious colour and smell wonderful when you’re doing this. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Remove the sugar from the oven, heat the oven to 325F/165C and place the tray of jars in the oven to sterilize while the jam is finishing. (The jars should be heated for at least 15 minutes at this temperature). Place the lids for the jars in a pan of shallow water to warm up the seals (don’t boil – a simmer is good).
Tip the warmed sugar into the pot of boiling raspberries. Return to the boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat to stop the cooking. Check to see if the mixture has formed a gel – drop a small spoonful on a frozen plate – tip the plate and see if it moves slowly – or if you stick your finger into the jam, does it wrinkle slightly at the edges? It’s done. If not, put the jam back on the heat for a minute or two more and test again. Stir in the Chambord.
Remove the hot sterilized jars from the oven and fill the jars with jam, leaving half a centimetre or a quarter inch space at the top. Cover with snap lid and apply screw bands. Let jars sit, undisturbed, for a day before labelling and storing in a cool, dark place. I don’t usually process my jams, but most resources advise this practice – here’s how: Place filled jars in a pot of hot water, adjust the water level so there is a good 2.5 centimetres/1 inch of water above the lids and bring the water to the boil. Process for 10 minutes.