Waiting for an announcement that strawberries are ripe and ready to pick, I have been calling the hotline at Jones Family Farm more frequently than is reasonable. Farmer Jones' current message is encouraging but noncommittal. My own few strawberry plants are presenting white flowers and a couple small green berries, nothing more. What makes me think the fields a half hour away in Shelton will be any further along?
I grew up in a suburban housing tract and not on a farm. We put up summer produce all the same, filling the first jars each year with strawberries. In California, strawberries are ripe at the beginning of March. In Connecticut, I wait impatiently until the beginning of June when we can go to the fields and fill flat boxes with jammy berries. More than once, they have been so ripe that they were nearly crushed by the time I drove them home to wash and stem them. Strawberries fresh from the field are nothing like the tasteless fruit they sell in the grocery store. The house fills with the scent of berries as I skim foam off of the top of the boiling goodness. After each jar is filled, I wait for the snap of the Mason jar lids to seal. I wish each year that I had remembered to bake or buy a loaf of bread in advance to share the jam immediately.
It's neither difficult nor expensive to buy high-quality, delicious jam anywhere in country. The same goes for pickles and preserved tomatoes. Home canning is in no way necessary. From a practical standpoint, my time could be better spent working or doing any of the other tasks that are left incomplete around my home. Perhaps that is why it's a pleasure.
My mother's aunt has a microwave jam recipe that she swears by. My grandmother has experimented with making jam in the freezer. I received an email advertising an automatic jam and jelly maker that promises, "Make fresh jam in under thirty minutes," and boasts, "smart stir technology." While I can see the appeal of shortcuts, I kind of like standing over the boiling pot and stirring. I like to test the temperature with a thermometer and scoop the hot liquid into sterilized jars.
I planned my little kitchen garden this year with canning in mind. A neighbor pickles peppers in the same way she did on her mother's farm in Turkey. I'd like to try her recipe. I planted cucumbers that will be pickled, and tomatoes I can save for winter. I will search for wild berries. I know a place where knobby apples grow; they make delicious apple butter. I would like to find cherries at the farmer's market and maybe some apricots and plums. All summer, I am a collector of produce. This past winter seemed especially long to me. For next, I hope to have a pantry filled with jars of jam and preserved fruits and vegetables, a reminder of summer's bounty.
Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.