I had two thoughts as I breathed in the aroma of strawberries, lemon and sugar that filled the room as the jam bubbled on the stove. The first was that my house smelled like Grandma Evelynne's. Not the cigarette-smoke permeating everything smell, no, it was the smell of summer when the doors were left open to bring in a breeze and a pot of strawberry jam was simmering on the stove. Grandma made the BEST strawberry jam I've ever tasted. She also made the BEST peanut butter and jelly sandwiches: white bread, a healthy dose of butter, peanut butter (choosy grandmothers also always choose JIF), and, of course, her homemade strawberry jam. My mother would try to make it, even using the same ingredients, and I swear she'd never come close.
My second thought, I am now horribly embarrassed to admit, was that, in just one attempt, I'd bested Grandma's recipe. I followed the instructions, read the reviews and comments, and simmered, simmered, simmered, waiting for the jam juices to achieve a gel-like consistency when spooned onto a frozen plate. It took almost 40 minutes longer than the recipe suggested, but I finally reached it. A shimmering pool of jelly, it had darkened a little from all that simmering, but it smelled just right. I carefully ladled the jam into sterilized jars, and, with Jo's help, screwed on the scorching-hot lids. We snapped a few photos, trying to get the light just right in our now dark kitchen. And then we went to bed, leaving the jam to cool overnight.
I went to bed with the words to THAT POST already forming in my mind. I'd be humble, maybe even a little disappointed that my jam tasted better than Grandma's, a fond childhood food memory smashed to smithereens with my cooking prowess. I'd talk about what a shame it was that I didn't have any really good peanut butter in the house to go with it. And I'd throw in a mention of Jules's newly acquired love for the Frances book about Bread and Jam as I described him gobbling up slice after slice of jam-slathered toast.
Oh, the arrogance of youth. This morning I checked the jam. Runny. OK, so I'd have to work on the consistency next batch, but that's no big deal. I toasted two pieces of bread: one for Kasper to gnaw on, and one for my glorious jam. One bite and I knew it was BEYOND TERRIBLE. Not just runny, it was bitter, too. Runny, bitter, and barely a strawberry flavor to it. Not wanting to throw the bread away, I covered up the jam with sunflower seed butter and ate it. Sigh.
When Jules sat down for breakfast, he spied the jars and asked for a taste. "This is. Not. Good." was his pronouncement. So now I'm stuck with 3 jars of strawberry yuck. Maybe I can salvage them. Maybe I can add some Borax to them and take out the ant colonies that have been swarming around our house since March.
But I have to smile (OK, grimace might be a better word) as I imagine Grandma gazing down on me from her spot in canning heaven with a little smile and a shake of her head. My greatest hope now has been reduced to the wish that next time (if there is a next time) I won't burn the jam.