Epic jam session

SUMMER 2014 2014-07-22 002I 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.

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Forest Lodge, Louise Dickinson Rich’s home on the Rapid River

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Yesterday, I spent the day on the Rapid River in Upton, Maine, one of the premier fly fishing destinations in the Northeast. Despite its remote location and limited accessibility, devoted anglers have been coming there since the late 19th century to fish for brook trout and landlocked salmon.

As on my several previous visits to the Rapid River, I wasn’t there to fish. Instead, I was on a literary pilgrimage: I was visiting Forest Lodge, Louise Dickinson Rich’s former home, where she wrote We Took To the Woods, her 1942 best-seller about living—year-round!—deep in the Maine woods with her family.

Getting there requires driving on 16 miles of sometimes-rutted dirt road (with plenty of twists, turns, and unmarked forks, as well as the occasional logging truck) or, alternatively, crossing Richardson Lake from South Arm to Middle Dam by boat, a distance of several miles, then hiking two miles in on the Carry Road.

This was my first trip back to Forest Lodge since I spent four days there last summer on a personal writing retreat. It was also the first trip I’ve made there without my intrepid brother Steve to lead the way, but I was in equally competent hands for this adventure: I was tagging along on the Upton Historical Society’s fourth annual daylong tour of LDR’s home.

Society members provided not only transportation and camaraderie, but also a delicious box lunch prepared by the Upton Ladies Aid, which we ate on the porch of the Summer House, overlooking the river, in the company of Aldro French, legendary raconteur and “Keeper of Forest Lodge.”

Aldro’s family has owned the place since the mid-1960s, and for many years he has run a guiding and lodging business for fishermen there. Now in his 70s, he has decided it’s time to retire, and has placed most of the buildings that comprise Forest Lodge up for sale.IMG_0716

The members of the historical society in the tiny town of Upton (which has a year-round population of around 100 residents) understand the importance of preserving this unique piece of Maine history, and hope to be able to purchase and maintain LDR’s Winter House as a museum.

I was invited along on the tour in my official capacity as a writer for the Bethel Citizen, to report on their continuing efforts to raise funds through grants and private donations, which I’ll be doing in the next week or two.

I’m also hoping to pitch their story to a wider audience—one that may include potential donors with a reverence for literary history and sporting tradition who will join their preservation effort.

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The Fourth at camp: Food. Fun. Dogs.

IMG_3426   We had a busy three-day weekend at camp, with visits from one daughter, three nieces, three significant others, and six extra dogs. (That’s a lot of dogs. So, so many dogs.)

We had plenty of food—because what’s a weekend at camp without celebratory food?—waffles and pancakes and muffins for breakfast, the usual grilled Fourth of July fare (supplemented with moose sausage, veggie burgers, and tofu pups), lobsters for dinner on Saturday, sandwiches and salads and snacks, and desserts, of course—chocolate cake and homemade ice cream (made with our own organically grown strawberries) and strawberry shortcake.



In spite of rain on one day and cool, windy weather—vestiges of Hurricane Arthur—on another, we also had plenty of fun—board games and dog-walks and visits to the Bethel Art Fair, along with time to catch up with each other, sleep in, and do a little reading. Tony started and finished a 400-page novel (reading it, not writing it). My niece’s boyfriend knit an entire baby sweater while he was here.


The mostly-indoors weather meant that we had between four and six dogs in our rather small camp for a large part of the weekend, with three nervous cats peering malevolently down at them from the loft.

The weather turned perfect by Sunday, warm and dry, with just enough of a breeze to keep the bugs at bay, so we got our fix of swimming and deck-sitting, and managed—with the help of several handlers and a lot of treats—to gather six of the cousin-dogs together for a photo.

The cats did not deign to participate.