I just finished making five batches of raspberry jam. It added up to 40 cups…or ten quarts…or two and a half gallons. It’s enough jam to more than half-fill the enormous pot we use when we cook lobsters at camp, or two or three dozen ears of corn. I didn’t put it in that big pot, of course—I put it in jars. Many, many jars. Twenty-four half-pint jars and eight pint jars.
That’s a lot of jam.
When I was little, my mother and I used to walk to the place on the camp road we called “the raspberry patch,” where a recent logging operation had left piles of slash, the perfect habitat for wild raspberries. My mother was the fastest berry-picker I’ve ever known, and the most tireless. She tied a bucket around her waist so she could pick with both hands, and no matter how hot a day it was, she was never ready to leave the patch until she had filled that bucket.
By the time I was a teenager, the raspberry patch had grown up to birches and alders, and the raspberries were gone. For two or three summers, we loaded the car with berry pails, my mom’s special jam pot, jars, lids, sugar, and Certo fruit pectin and drove 90 minutes to my sister’s camp in Mount Vernon, where another logging operation had left similar piles of slash, and raspberries grew rampant until they, too, were replaced by birches and alders. My mother, along with anyone she could enlist to help pick, would spend the morning and half the afternoon in the patch, and the rest of the afternoon and evening making jam, filling the camp with sticky steam and a wonderful, sweet scent. (My brother and sister-in-law had recently bought a rustic ski lodge, where they served breakfast and dinner to their guests, and my mother was determined that every breakfast at the Sunday River Inn would include homemade jam—so she, too, made a lot of jam.)
If you don’t know where the raspberry patch on the camp road was, you’d never pick it out today. The trees have grown so large that now it’s just another section of road winding through the forest. I picked my raspberries at a local PYO place where I was able to pick 20 pints, at $3.10 a pint, of lovely, fat cultivated berries in a little over two hours. (My mother probably could have done it in one, but would have declared it considerably less rewarding than picking wild ones for free.)
My mother put up her jam in any kind of glass jars she could find—peanut butter jars, jelly glasses that came with cream cheese-pimiento spread in them, instant coffee jars—and sealed it with a layer of paraffin wax. (Sometimes the seal wasn’t quite air-tight, and then there was mold on top when we opened it; naturally, Mom just scraped that off and declared the jam “perfectly all right.”) I seal mine in Ball canning jars, and make sure all the lids seal properly before I store them or give them away.
Back when my mom was conducting her epic jam sessions, Certo came in a brown glass bottle. In order to measure out the half-bottle required make a single batch of jam, you tipped it up and poured until the level in the upside down bottle reached the mark that said, “For 1/2 bottle, pour to here.” It was a bit stressful, because what if you couldn’t get the bottle flipped back upright before you poured out too much? (You couldn’t make a double batch of jam, of course, because the instructions that came with the Certo clearly stated, “Do not double recipe!” and, to this day, I’ve never dared to try.) Now it comes in a box, with two handy foil pouches inside—much simpler, but somehow less gratifying, than successfully pouring out just the right amount while simultaneously stirring a bubbling pot of jam, boiling water to sterilize jars, and keeping an eye on a coffee can of melting paraffin on another burner.
But when I make raspberry jam, it still stores up memories of summer to get us through the winter, and it still fills the camp with sweet, sticky steam. And I still cook it in the good old Wear-ever aluminum camp pot with the bail handle.
That’s what makes it taste just like Mom’s.