The first time I ever tried making jam was in the spring after my dad died. I’d spent the winter getting his house ready. Painting. No less than five garage sales, plus a free-for-all at the end. Getting the floors finished and the mice gone. Screaming in the middle of the night as a bat whipped around the small room where I slept, alone, in the 3,000 square-foot house.
Spring came to Dad’s plot of land, which sported a view of Puget Sound and a sliver of rocky gray beachfront and a towering cedar with a family of eagles in it. The warm weather brought out the blackberries that outlined his property, nature’s barbed wire. A plum tree he’d planted when we moved there in the 1980s had been bearing lovely fruit for many years at the point — jewel-toned orbs so bountiful that even those greedy fat crows couldn’t take them all. That spring was also when the Californians came to buy the house, at a sad pittance.
One of the last visits I made to Dad’s was to pick fruit. I spent the next several days making jam, scouring the instructions from the box of pectin. Plum-ginger jam for Christmas. Blackberry. Blackberry-plum. Plum-blackberry. All told, I ended up with several dozen very successful jars, plus a few that had to be trashed (don’t try the all-natural hippie pectin they sell at Whole Foods, unless you like soap-flavored jam). I wanted everyone who came over to try the jam — but not everyone was jamworthy. Some could only have a smear on a piece of toast. A lucky few could leave with a whole jar.
Now that I live in California, I am privy to people who have fruit trees. Last year it was peaches. This year, my friend Jessica has plums. Millions of them. Maybe even zillions. All from one big tree in her front yard. So I went over there with my empty tyvek Trader Joe’s bag and came home with a tyvek Trader Joe’s bag groaning with the weight of deep purple plums.
The first batch of my plum-ginger jam is more like sauce that might be OK for BBQ or over ice cream. This mishap was due to what I will admit was operator error. (Do not drink wine and make jam, as you just might skip over a few very important points. Making jam is 98 percent science and 5 percent art and 3 percent overlap). But tonight I tried again, and I could tell that the lovely ruby mix was just the right consistency that it will set beautifully.
As the jam cools, the metal lids make little popping sounds, sealing the jar. It’s the sound of love, as I make a mental note of who in my life is jam worthy. I might have to make more.