Those Jam Lessons!


Surprisingly last week I discovered some profound lessons in an unlikely teacher. I was making jam and as I grated and stirred it struck me there were a lot of significant ponderings preserved in that simple process.  I know it hardly seems possible. But allow me to explain.

Unexpected opportunities

Two weeks ago Lowell was visiting friends in Wisconsin. They sent home a bag full of quinces. I had never heard of a quince before. It’s a beautiful golden orb, smooth to the touch. I gently put it to my nose and discovered a floral fragrance, not unlike a ripe guava. I wasn’t expecting a bag of fruit to come home with Lowell. The gift was the fruit but it was also the invitation to be a part of the work to process that fruit. It was a call to creativity!

Often the fruit is unknown.

I had no idea what to do with a quince. It was outside of my experience. So I did what any modern kitchen amateur would do: I googled it! I looked in a couple of old cookbooks. I gathered information about quinces. Initially I was a tad bit intimidated by this unknown fruit. Choosing to step over my fears allowed me to engage an unusual subject with unknown outcomes. What had seemed daunting now felt a bit like an adventure!

Don’t be quick to make assumptions

Although the fruit smelled like a guava, and was smooth like a pear and round like an apple the quince was entirely it’s own species. Apparently you cannot eat a raw quince. They are far too astringent. One bite and your entire mouth will feel like it has been turned inside out. Information gleaned online instructed me to cook the quince. Had I proceeded on instinct I would have taken a big bite of the mysterious fruit but the gathering of facts persuaded me to not rely on my assumptions. It was important to enter the world of quinces, as in all other worlds, humbly as a learner.

Grate finely

Chunky quince jam probably wouldn’t have been the most pleasant of outcomes. Every recipe I looked at suggested grating the quince. There’s something to be said about breaking down impossible situations into more manageable pieces.

Sweeten to taste

I know I’m an optimist, but I still think it’s safe to say, that sugar added liberally is never a bad idea. There’s usually a way to soften the moment. There’s often a sweeter way to approach a situation—with grace, kind words, respect, honor. For six cups of quince I added four cups of sugar!

Lemon juice courage

Each recipe suggested adding some lemon juice. I settled on one that recommended adding a ¼ cup. It felt brave to add that much acid. It took faith and trust. Recently I was a part of a group where I felt the need to speak out against the generally shared opinion in the room. It felt brave to add that much conflict. It took faith and trust. It also took restraint to not go ahead and throw in the whole bag of lemons and oranges!

Simmer for 50 minutes

These things take time. There’s no hurrying through to the end. There’s no fast forwarding to the desired outcomes. It takes time to bring the pot of grated fruit and sugar and lemon to a boil. One has only to turn the heat down, stir often and wait. Patience can never be rushed.

Know when you’re done

I suppose a person could let the jam simmer forever. At some point it’s good to evaluate and know when you’re done.

Can the jam

Pouring the hot jam into hot jars and sealing them with hot seals and rings preserves the jam for winter days ahead. It seems to me to be a good idea to contain the outcomes, to bring things to a close, to store it away in a clean jar.

Enjoy the fruit

I’ve quickly discovered a new favorite bread-spread: quince jam! I baked up a batch of fresh biscuits that same evening. A thin layer of melting butter and a thick layer of quince jam made for a delicious Saturday supper. I had worked hard…and the labor had not been in vain. I think it can be like that with much of life too. You can push your chair away from the table, satisfied that you worked hard, that you finished the job. Even if the jam isn’t exactly one you’re familiar with it’s pleasing to know you finished what you started. I rose to the challenge. I stepped up to the plate. There was tremendous satisfaction in that buttery quincy bite!