the poetic: the bounties of the markets, gardens, and backyard trees of friends and family speak so much of summer; the long, lazy days, the heat, humidity and stickiness, the vividness of colours and heightened senses all captured in elements of each fruit in their own unique way. the first bite through the earthy, thin membrane of strawberries to the warm, sweet, slighty saline dribble of juice reminds me of the salt-tinged, hot, heavy air of the coast and the glaringly sunny, dusty fields from where they were picked. lemons recall a day of easy companionship of friends, the waxy skin akin to the shiny leaves from the gnarled tree from whence they came, pruned back reluctantly; the pucker of stinging juice a reminder of the hidden thorns which pricked us in retaliation. there is so much of it that one would long to remember in the grayer, busier, more stressful days of the year; a way to capture the essence of summer, to give a sweet reminder of sunshine, warmth, and grace.
fruit, sugar, water, heat. easy alchemy.
the reality: 1. i go to the farmers' markets and vendors are practically *throwing* their wares at me--i'm tempted by everything in season, and the idea of buckets of berries going for a fistful of crumpled dollars that won't even get me through a fast food value meal menu is hard to resist. i visit friends and family who complain that it's too hot to pick the fruit or veg bursting off the vine, falling off the tree in their backyards. if, they slyly comment, i want some, just go ahead and take what you want. they know that i already know where the ladder and secateurs are; they also know i'd rather pull down everything ripe for the picking and leave the majority for them. cheap labour, they secretly know. suckaaaah. oh yeah, whatever, where are the gloves.
2. i take home pails, laundry baskets, milk crates of ripe-at-that-moment fruit. i gleefully arrange jadeite bowls, plastic polka-dotted trays, and precious craftsmen-era sideboards with marthaesque towers of lemons, blossom, and herbs. i waft around in ballgown skirts and pearls whilst vacuuming, citrus fruit gently tumbling down to the rug like a scene from a stanley donen musical starring a demented asian girl, set in rue du pico-robertson. i live in ignorant bliss for 48 hours before the reality that it's a hazy, stifling 90 degrees outside sets in, and there's penicillin mold bulleyes growing at an alarming rate on all the lemons. i start to hyperventilate the mold spores in as i imagine grisly fruit-fly-related illnesses or slipped-on-rotting-cellulose concussions. i am reassured i will not contract scurvy, but only just.
3. spend an aggravating afternoon trawling the westside for canning supplies--am blanked out at major supermarket chains and at 'spensive gourmet outlets. do people not can anymore??! only on the prairie, says a blithe stockboy. well then, get me some mother****ing jars from the mother****ing plains! i am reminded that winter is just. around. the. corner. and what with al gore sightings and melting ice caps and such i can't be too careful you know? (la cienega at sunset would make the perfect slalom run, btw.) weirdly discover that the major 'spensive gourmet supermarket, gelson's, carries every canning supply i could possibly ever want, including paraffin wax for airtight sealing. hardcore, awesome. i'll take a case of each size, please. as i am pushing my cart through the aisles, i look at the other patrons in the store and wonder: are kyle maclachlan and ricki lake (not together) a part of the secret gelson's canning society? does special agent dale cooper can royal anne cherries for homemade pie? do orson and bree preserve victory garden vegetables for fun? does tracy turnblatt have a pickled beets recipe to die for? i buy enough cane sugar to make the supercilious checkout lady assess the size of my thighs. i seethe quietly yet quite visibly alarm the law clerk who just wants his yogurt.
5. get home, bung all the jars into the dishwasher for a round on the hot rinse cycle to sterilize them. leave 'em there to dry and tackle the piles of flesh around me. slice and dice like a human ronco machine.
6. take out a pot. take out two pots. take out four. dump lids for jars into one pot of boiling water, then ignore it. generally, it doesn't take that much to get your jam on, especially if you're not too picky about the consistency of its consistency--throw in any amount of ripe fruit, adjust acids and sugars to taste, add other flavourings, cook down until a teaspoon of the boiled liquid begins to gel/harden on a saucer chilled in the refrigerator. of course i don't follow a recipe, that would imply i am more prepared than i am. i
1 pint of fresh figs, quartered + 1 small meyer lemon, sliced, with peel (without seeds) + 1/2 cup white sugar + 1 cup port wine
2 pints strawberries, hulled and halved + 1 pint blueberries + a handful of royal anne cherries, pitted + juice and zest from 1 meyer lemon + 3/4 demerara sugar
2 pints strawberries, hulled and halved + 2 pints blueberries + 1 cup brown sugar + freshly grated nutmeg
4 cups white corn kernels + 1 pint red cherry tomatoes + 1 pint yellow pear tomatoes + 1 cup apple cider vinegar + 1 cup brown sugar + 1 tablespoonful whole mustard seeds + 1 bay leaf
7. fill dozens of clean jars with prepared fruit or veg, and discover boiling method of canning not as difficult as building a sod house under the banks of a river. basic, scary looking directions here, but help from the dishwasher eliminates step 3. all you really need to do is fill the jars carefully, leave a teeny bit of room on the top, remove as many air bubbles as you can, seal not-too-tight, then boil a bit in water. anyway, if you fear you are the harbinger of plague or the e. coli strain that will wipe out your entire blackberry list, then put the finished jars in the fridge anyway. no biggie.
8. flatmate opens the fridge for a beer. stares for moment then finally says, "what are we? poor?" i finally perfect the Santos Death Stare™, then stalk off to the little garden. too bad you can't really slam a sliding door.
back to the poetic: by far my favourite of the lot is a four fruit marmalade made from a haphazard zesting, grating, chopping, and juicing of blood oranges from my uncle's garden, meyer lemons from merry's, lemons from cyrano's, and a ruby red grapefruit stolen from a neighbour (shhhhhh). the jewelled tones of red, orange and gold are as vivid and brilliant as any sunny summer day, the sweetness, bitterness, acidity and sheer brilliance of flavour is such a perfect reflection of my bond with each of the people who contributed to the bounty. each taste is as fresh as the next, with a subtle difference from the intermingling fruit; yet, it is as classically traditional as marmalades should be. a bit of summer in every bite, a little reminder of friendships forever, even after the last spoonful is long gone.