Better to be in a pickle or a jam?

If you keep the jam in the refrigerator and eat it quickly enough, you don't have to bother to sterilize the jars.

Every June my thoughts turn to jam. A plum tree that grew from a discarded pit blooms outside my window each spring, and then I watch closely as the fruit begins to grow. I water the tree assiduously with leftover coffee and check daily to monitor the fruit. Sometimes it seems that I can see the change from one day to the next.

June is a tricky month. The fruit is almost ripe but still mouth-puckeringly tart. But if left on the tree until it is fully ripe, usually the second week of July, either the birds get it or it falls to the pavement with a nasty splat.

So the last week of June is when I’m on my guard. For the past few years the tree gave only a sparse yield, much of it in branches that had stretched to the sun. I had to climb a tall ladder to do the picking, and even then had to pull the top branches down. It was a precarious business, all for less than two or three pounds of fruit. But this year we had a bumper crop, partly because of the late rain in May. It was enough to fill all the jars I’d prepared.

Making the jam is easy enough. I wash it and put it in a heavy-bottomed pot and mash it a bit to release some juice. Then I cover it with slightly less than an equal weight of sugar. After an hour or two, I turn on a low flame and then just let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pits come free of the flesh. They go into a sieve I put over the pot so the juices will run back in. Toward the end of the cooking I add a few drops of lemon juice. And that’s it.

I used to sterilize the jars and seal them with paraffin. That was in the days when I used to get crates of overripe apricots from my sister-in-law’s family. They turned into heavenly comfiture that I could probably never replicate today.

But now, I make much smaller quantities and give most of it away immediately, so I don’t have to worry about spoilage. Of course, my neighbors get some. After all, the tree grows in our communal garden and the fruit belongs to all of us. And the rest goes to family and friends. This year there was enough to give everyone more than just a few spoonsful. And everyone seemed to like this tart wild-plum concoction. My guess is that we’ll have polished off our own jars just in time for next year’s crop.

What’s the best time of day to make jam? I have no idea, but I always end up filling the jars at some ungodly hour. I guess it’s a law of nature that whenever you start making the jam, you always end up in a pickle timewise.

Another word about The Music Man
Many of you wrote to me to say how much you love The Music Man, and one of you sent me a link to a wonderful rendition of “Seventy-six Trombones.” I must share it with you. Here it is. Enjoy!

Text and photo copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or

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