By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note: Jam! Can you imagine life without it… smooth, delectable, always there, never contumacious like your last lover, never foul mouthed or vulgar (like some of your friends); something which never disappoints… always satisfies… a friend in fair weather or foul. Yes, jam is all this — and more.
Thus, we will today remember the preparers of jam (some of the most important people on earth)… moments of pure joy as you ate it… then dipped a spoon into the jar.. and ate some more, for additional, predictable bliss.
For such a day of exaltation, celebration and mouth-watering delectation, I have selected (as theme music) the peppy little number written by Cole Porter (1940), sung by Judy Garland at her most bouncy. She belts it out, “If you’re ever in a jam, here I am….” The tune is, of course, “Friendship”.
Go to any search engine now… find the recording. Don’t play it quite yet. First, get your very best serving bowl out… and fill it, heaping, with something you love now, have loved from the beginning, something you will always love and desire… jam.
Grammie’s best crystal… for a boy she loved who loved her incomparable jams.
The snows in the interminable prairies of the Great Republic bring days when you are sure the sun is a hoax, when the light is gray and harsh, when the wind howls early and late and your thoughts turn maudlin, oppressive, inward looking and sad. For such days God invented Grammie… and her jams.
My grandmother, Victoria Burgess Lauing, was of English stock… and this, I am sure accounts for her sweet tooth… and her love of (amongst many glorious foods) the concentrated joy that is jam. She came by it, I am sure, in her genes… even in her name, for the Great Queen she was named after had a sweet tooth, too, which she indulged with imperial frequency. Sweeties, and this included jam, were the secret of the empire… the reason the sun never set… and tea was religiously served each day… for tiffin meant….. jam and thoughts of England, home, so very far away and loved.
The very best jam in the very best crystal.
Grammie was what young women today disdain, but do not know or understand. She, the “lady of the house”, was a house wife. She mastered, she perfected, she exemplified every virtue of her place and profession… and just how practiced and most excellent she was could be seen to clear advantage with the jam she served on her best crystal.
It may have been Lennox or even Waterford, a boy doesn’t notice such things, but you knew you were being treated better than Little Lord Fauntleroy (published 1886) when, with great ceremony, she presented what you craved — jam — on a dish ordinarily used only and solely for the great family festivals of the year. On such a Winter’s day when the bleakness of the prairies had seeped into your soul, she knew a potent counterattack was absolutely necessary. And she knew where to find it… in the jams which harbored the sunlight and sweetness we all require on such days.
She, a thoughtful, conscientious, practical woman, had planned for just this day when, in high Summer, she had decreed it was time for making the jams, so sweet, so necessary against the inevitable Winter, its winds, and howling oppressions.
Pursuit of sweet perfection, labor of love.
It is time to tell you, for unless you had such a Grammie you cannot know, of the process, at once exacting and precise, that produced the jam which would, all too soon, sustain us.
My grandmother’s kitchen was her domain, everything about it was redolent of who she was, of her beliefs, values, organizational skills, what she deemed essential… and what she discarded, and when. Unobservant folk missed all this, but other house wives of the prairies never did… and it was partly for them that all was laid out in perfection. Grammie was a competitive woman… and she would never allow or tolerate any imperfection that would cause her neighbors to cavil, denigrate, or exult over any fault found. She was a proud woman… and she wanted to stand well before her peers and the world. She never disdained the house wife’s role… and what she did, she did in exemplary fashion, with exemplary results. So it was when it was time to make the jam.
Hot, hot, infernally hot.
If Illinois was arctic in Winter, it was nothing less than an inferno in Summer when the oppressive heat slowed the pace and made one wish, if only for a moment, of the snows they would get soon enough and disdain.
Jam, as you probably don’t know if you are an urban dweller, is made of chopped or crushed fruit and sugar. To begin, you wash the fruit. Crush it, but don’t puree. Then cook it stove top until the ingredients are well mixed and start to boil. At this point, very much on the qui vivre, Grammie would be vigilant, alert, watchful so as not to scorch. Perfection, she knew, is the result of every necessary decision exactly made, no error made, allowed, or tolerated.
The mixture, having reached a boil, would then be transferred from stove top to oven, always being sure to stir with practiced skill and care. Maestro that she was, she would have taken, time to time, a spoon full’s quantity of perfection in progress; to place this small amount in the freezer for just a minute, thereby knowing, in meticulous fashion, whether the jam was done, or would be better still by waiting a bit. These were not matters of conjecture… but of a lifetime’s knowledge of her subject, sternly to be followed and adhered to now, without rush or cutting corners. That would never do, and so was never done.
This was work that called for judgement, unstinting care, patience… of knowing just what to do and when to do it… and it was all done in a place heated twice, first by the unrelentingly sun of Summer… and then by the high heat of stove and oven. It was all necessary to derive the excellence, the perfection of the jam she would afterward share with her critical neighbors and friends (proof of her mastery) and with her family, who tasted in the finished jam the evidence she loved us so and would never give less than her always astonishing best.
Grammie gone, her revelations gone, too.
I have always wondered why neither of Grammie’s two daughters, my mother and her younger sister, bothered to record Grammie’s recipes, for they were her true genius and legacy. My mother now is gone herself so I cannot ask… but whatever the reason I rue the result and wish it otherwise. All this came home to me the other day when I saw that Tommy at the Montrose Spa right up the street was having a sale of Bonne Maman jams. I bought the fig preserves first… and the next day went back and bought the plum, the blueberry, the strawberry, and (for good measure) another fig. They are (and this is my highest praise) reminiscent of my Grammie’s highest skill. Product of France they may be, they yet bring me home to my English Grammie, who on the highest days of Summer could be found stirring the mixture that brought sweetness and comfort to all, reassurance we would get through the rigors of the Winter to come, made bearable by her great art and always by her love.
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About The Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., where small and home-based businesses learn how to profit online. Dr. Lant is also a syndicated writer and author of 18 best-selling business books. Details at worldprofit.com and JeffreyLantArticles.com
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