Brigolante holiday rentals in Assisi, Umbria

Self-catering apartments in Assisi's town center and nearby countryside.

Ceci n’est pas un blog de cuisine: Strawberry Jam

Just to makes things clear at the outset, this is not a blog about food.  Or wine.  Or cooking in general.  It is, however, a blog about this wild toboggan ride commonly known as Life, and a big part of mine has to do with food, wine, and cooking in general.  So, there you have it. And now back to our regularly scheduled program.

Certain experiences are so overwhelmingly paradigm shifting that when you have them you feel like your very molecular structure has been altered somehow and you know instinctively and viscerally that you will never be the same again.  When you move overseas, for example.  When you become a parent.  When someone you love dies unexpectedly.  When you are bit by a radioactive spider and suddenly look buff in a skin-tight unitard. When, for the first time, you make jam.  Jam?!?  Yep.

Pick your berries

Saturday morning found me itching
To get on over to my grandma’s kitchen
The sweetest little berries was cooking up right
And then we’d put them in a canning jar and seal them up tight

I have learned lots of things since moving to a farm:

1. There’s a reason that there are no farmers amongst the annual Forbes 500.

2. Roosters do not crow at dawn, but all effing day (and night, if the mood should hit them.  The day I decide–after 20 years of vegetarianism–to eat meat once again, I will personally throttle a rooster with my bare hands and devour it with much vindictive satisfaction.)

3.  “A woman’s work is never done.” is one of the truest aphorisms ever uttered.

4.  If you want beef that isn’t chock full of antibiotics, hormones, and other stuff you wouldn’t want your dog to eat, you’re going to have to pay more than two bucks a pound.

5.  There is immense satisfaction to be had in growing good food, preserving good food, and serving good food.

Chop your berries

We have Smucker’s, Welches, Knotts Berry Farm
But a little homemade jam never did a body no harm
A little local motion is all we need
To close down these corporate jam factories

And that last little nugget of wisdom is all bound up in a jar of homemade jam, which has to be one of the easiest thing to make in the history of cooking by fire.  With just a little fruit, sugar, and—that most precious of ingredients—time, through some sort of mysterious culinary alchemy you end up with row upon row of jewel-toned glass jars shimmering on your pantry shelves.  Eating a slice of fresh hot bread slathered with sweet butter and homemade strawberry jam brings on such a feeling of life satisfaction that if, in that exact moment, an asteroid were to drop out of the sky and pick you off, you would feel no regret.

Cook your berries

Yeah, we have a little revolution sweeping the land
Now once more everybody’s making homemade jam
So won’t you call your friends up on the telephone
You invite ’em on over, you make some jam of your own

I find the act of making jam meditative…all the time I pick and wash fruit, peel, chop, and otherwise prepare it, sterilize the glass jars, and slowly stir the simmering mixture as it lets out its pectin and begins to thicken into jam, I reflect. I reflect on the abundance of what the earth offers. (When she damn well pleases.  The moody wench also likes to send late freezes, hail storms, and record rains. See item number 1 above.) I reflect on how often the most soul-satisfying food is the simplest.  I reflect on how many generations of women before me have “put up” food to feed their families, and how in this modern world of the information super highway and molecular gastronomy and Vibram Five Fingers this art remains largely unchanged.

Eat your berries

We’ll be making jam
Strawberry jam, mmmm-mm
If you want the best jam
You gotta make your own

And mostly I reflect on who will be eating this jam, this sparkling jar of distilled love.  My boys, whose favorite part of jam making is climbing the fig and apricot trees or going on blackberry picking expeditions along the tracks in the woods.  My friends, who know that due to a Aspberger-like social akwardness I often substitute gifts for hugs, but the sentiment is the same.  My guests, who have given me so much over the years in exchange for my modest offering of fruit, sugar, and time. And myself, who sometimes needs just a quiet moment with some simple strawberry sweetness to survive this wild toboggan ride of a life.

Eat your berries again, this time with feeling

Aw, one more time
Oh, makin’ that jam
Yeah, Strawberry jam
If you want the best jam
You gotta make your own

–Strawberry Jam song lyrics by Michelle Shocked


  1. George |

    I don’t know if you remember that I’m not much of a fruit eater and tend to prefer what little fruit I eat raw, but I do appreciate the experience of preparation and the satisfaction of making one’s own. My home-made treats tend to be chocolate-based, but the sentiment behind the gift is the same. (I especially relate to the social awkwardness.)

    For a peek into how city folk do it, here’s a canning blog written by my friend, Eric (who, I just recently discovered, is a writer!):

    • rebecca |

      Never a finer compliment, Diana…thank you!

      I know it looks like there’s something yellow in the pot, but it’s just a weird color thing that went on while I was trying to snap a picture of a boiling liquid before the steam fogged up the lens. Only strawberries in there!

  2. Mary |

    Hi Rebecca,

    What a writer you are! I always love your “stories” – you have such a talent for humorous, flowing prose. Hope all is well with you and your family.

    • rebecca |

      Thanks so much, Mary. With two boys under eight, a sense of humor is a must! Things are fine here–we should try to throw together a GTG with the usual suspects this summer!

  3. George |

    I may be able to help with the lighting issue. Can you change the white balance on your camera? There should be a tungsten setting, which will neutralize the orange effect.

    • rebecca |

      To George: “It’s like she’s trying to speak to me, I know it. Look, you’re really cute, but I can’t understand what you’re saying. Say the first thing again.”

    • rebecca |

      Wait. Hold the phone. Eric, as in Eric Diesel of slashfood and urbanhomeblog?

      You think my jam is beautiful.

      Sorry, I just need to sit down for a minute.


  4. George |

    I’ll try again. When you go into the menu is there a “White Balance” setting? Can you change it? You may not be able to, depending on which scenario you’ve chosen (landscape, flower, running man, etc.). My “light sensitive” mode is a person in double parentheses. When I’m in that mode, I can go into the menu and change the white balance to the one that looks like a light bulb. When I do that, the image becomes clear, not washed over with orange.

    • rebecca |

      @George: Ok, now we are speaking the same language. I’m going to sit down this weekend and get a little more acquainted with my camera. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  5. Kathleen |

    Rebecca, as a result of your blog post, reports are coming in from the countryside. Strawberry vines have been spotted winding there way out of their berry patches toward Umbria, their leaves rustling an almost audible sound, that according to one boy in rural California, “sounds like ‘Brigolante’.”

    You capture a delicious turn of phrase and culture in your writing. Complimenti!

  6. Sarah Weiner |

    Reading this made my day! Sitting here in my office I can now smell jam cooking, yum! When I was a teenager and my parents split and my mother moved from the big city of Denver to Bellingham, Washington, she took advantage of all the wild blackberries that fill all the roadside ditches and vacant lots there to start making jam. We went to “U-Pick” farms and put up strawberry and blueberry jam too, and later in the summer made applebutter. Now, maybe I should give it a try…

    • rebecca |

      Thanks, everyone, for your wonderful comments. Nothing seems to strike a chord in the heart like homemade jam! @Sarah, for pure effort/pleasure ratio, no better way to spend a Sunday 🙂


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