The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 25, 1999


Why God made kids who nag

"Mom, you said we could go strawberry picking!" The season is going fast. My dilemma: having my daughter bug me all winter "you said we could go pick strawberries but we never did." or have a five-year old whining out in some hot sticky field.

With daughter, baskets and my bad attitude loaded in the car, we headed for Parlees off 110 in Westford, at most a 20-minute drive away; 20 minutes of picking results in four quarts of very ripe strawberries. Oh joy. Soon we will have four quarts of rotting strawberries. Eat them? Give them away? Throw them out as they rot? Make jam?

The jam and jelly production of my youth was a ritual of pots, sterilizers, lids and rings, cheese cloth, mulees, pectin, and dusty jars stored in the old coal cellar, a very scary place. Jelly-making was the Japanese tea ceremony of the rural America. I live in a "French roast from Starbucks" world. I haven't got a cellar full of all that stuff and I don't want to haul all the way out of Carlisle to get it for what I hope is a one-off event.

Out comes my handy dandy 1939 Fannie Merritt Farmer Boston Cooking-School Cook Book.. It pre-dates commercial pectin and "freezer jam." Most recipes have about five ingredients that are just right. The strawberry jam recipe is song of simplicity: "1 quart strawberries" and "sugar."

"Select small, tart berries, slightly under ripe." Mine are dead ripe; I'll cut back on the sugar. "Do one quart at a time." I should get at least one batch right. "Wash berries" We had some fun with berries bobbing in the sink and the splashed water is about as close as my kitchen floor gets to a washing. "Dry well and weigh." How do you dry four quarts of little teeny strawberrieslittle teeny terry towels?a blow dryer? I weighed them before getting them wet and subtracted the weight of the discards. "Crush in a flat pan." My daughter whaled on them with the bottom of a heavy glass in a sauce pan.

"Add equal weight of sugar and bring quickly to full boil. Cook 12 to 15 minutes or to jelly test." The jelly test is when the jelly comes off a tipped spoon in sheets rather then drops. I cooked one batch for an extra ten minutes and never got sheets, just blobs. Ignore Fannie on this. "Remove foam." I don't even want to think about what weird kitchen chemistry creates that stuff. "Cool in flat dish five to six hours. Fill glasses, label and store."

We let it cool for 15 minutes in a Pyrex measuring cup and ate the whole first batch on thin white toast while boiling up the second. It was so good. It was incredible. There is a reason that God made children who nag parents to go berry picking. That jam tasted like strawberries are suppose to taste, but usually don't. We ate our way through much of the second batch until we gave ourselves stomach aches. And then we ate some more. What we didn't eat I threw in three custard cups, covered in the refrigerator. We are nibbling at it still.

Our method may have been "Lipton tea bag" rather then "Japanese tea ceremony" but the result was great. No special equipment or ingredients. I commend to you both the experience and the recipe.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito