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Berry picking leads to her first jam session

Thursday, July 12, 2001

By Nancy Anderson, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

I'd never made jam. Never wanted to. Never saw the need. All that slaving over a hot stove was strictly for Smucker's.

But one Saturday in June, my neighbor, Tom Buchele, and I drove to Triple B Farms for strawberries. He needed them for a strawberry/rhubarb pie he was making for our block party that night. I needed them for my Cheerios.

The next morning, over the fence, he handed me a jar of still-warm strawberry jam, fresh from his kitchen.

I was stunned. It was only 11 o'clock. How did he do that? Why did he do that? He's a lawyer, for heaven's sake.

The answer was simple -- he had strawberries left over, so he made jam. No big deal.

The jam was spoon-licking delicious, tasting just like juicy, just-picked, farm-fresh strawberries with sugar, which is what it was, but no store-bought jam could capture the authentic flavor oozing out of every bite.

Can I do this?

Sure, it's easy.

Two weeks later we went back to Triple B -- it took us about 45 minutes on the scenic route from our Edgewood neighborhood to Forward -- to pick raspberries. This time I was going to make jam, too. The red weren't quite ready so we went for the black.

Picking my own raspberries sounded like such fun .... so back to nature ... so real.

It was relentlessly hot that day, my friends, as we inched our way along the bushes under a too real blazing sun.

Jaggers grazed my sweaty, bare arms at every opportunity, and my fingers turned a motley shade of purple.

Those "little" pint containers turned out to hold more berries than I ever dreamed possible. Filling four was a killer (it went a little faster once I stopped eating every other berry).

The question was, if I survived this, would there by any energy left for the exhausting, daunting task of making jam?

How little I knew. The worst was behind me.

Tom came over to assist with my first jamming.

Did he have a special recipe, handed down through generations and generations of famed jam makers?

No, he followed the directions in the pectin box.

Basically, this is what we did: Using a potato masher, we mashed the berries, put them in a pot with pectin, brought it to a boil, added sugar, boiled 1 minute, turned the heat off, filled the jars, put on lids and that was it.

I'd made nine jars of black raspberry jam in less time than it takes to drive to Giant Eagle, grab a jar of Smucker's, stand in line and drive home.

It wasn't a long, arduous, painstaking, mysterious process. It was FUN.

My friend, Merrill, called to see what was up. I told her and promised her a jar at Christmas.

"What about the Fourth of July?" she quipped.

I relented -- took it to her still warm, too. She'll be making jam in no time.

Meanwhile, the red raspberries are ripe at Triple B. Here we go again.


Raspberry Jam
5 cups fresh black or red raspberries
1 box pectin
7 cups sugar
2 teaspoons butter

Put 1 cup berries in a bowl and mash with a potato masher. Empty into a pot on the stove. Repeat with other 4 cups of berries.

Stir pectin into mixture and heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Add sugar and butter (prevents foam from forming) and return to a full, rolling boil for 1 minute.

Put lids in water to cover and bring to a simmer. The directions say to boil the jars too, but we didn't do it because of the acidity of the fruit. Canning vegetables is another matter.

Fill jars with jam. Wipe drips off the rims and threads with a moist cloth. Put lids on and turn jars upside down. This helps with sealing. When cool, turn over and test each one for a seal by pressing the center of the lid. It should not flex up and down. If it does, refrigerate and eat. Makes nine half-pint (8-ounce) jars of jam.

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