holiday and jam
July 5, 2006

Yuppies don't make jam. I know this because my mother and I can't find sufficient canning supplies at Williams-Sonoma, Linens 'n Things, World Market or Target (it of the stylish New Yorker ads, guerilla marketing for yuppies). We finally face the fact that these stores are catering to modern people who want their homemade touches ready-made: Williams-Sonoma has cookie decorating kits; World Market has a humbling array of jam (as well as some tiny Tabasco bottles we can't resist). What we need for my project-on-a-whim is your basic General Store or the Sears Catalogue. We're going to have to buy our Ball jars at Wal-Mart.

We draw the line at indulging in Super Wal-Mart's grocery store and head for the tony Market Street. Here, however, raspberries are $4.99 for 6 ounces. Are we prepared to spend $29 on raspberry-chipotle jam? We jettison that plan and improvise (with Google's help) peach-jalapeño instead.

We start with strawberry jam to get our bearings, and things are going very well. We've boiled the jars without cracking them (my greatest fear) and smashed up berries in the exact quantities specified by the recipe (my mother's greatest fear). I'm thinking to myself that canning is so easy I shouldn't shy away from it in my tiny kitchen—and that's when the pot starts boiling over, strawberry and sugar and pectin like lava and I can't make it stop.

But once the smoke and the fear of third-degree burns subside, I stick my finger into the mess. It's heavenly. It's the best jam ever: sweet, but not too sweet, with big chunks of strawberry and, once Mom manages to skim off the foam, silky and royally hued. Neither of us has made jam before and we're a little surprised it's so...jammy. (We also discover, happily, that it's water soluble; the mess isn't so bad.)

In the second round, I manage to keep the peaches in the pot, but not to keep jalapeño juice out of my fingernails and eyes and lips. Days later my fingertips still sting, but I can't decide which burns are worse: pepper or steam.

The reward is 16 perfect jars of jam (and one that didn't seal properly, which we opened and promptly devoured). For the next few days I play with them, stacking them and unstacking them, lining them up in different configurations with the mini-Tabascos, attaching various ribbons. (I'd say I was more excited about 16 matching tiny products than the jam itself—but the jam is awfully good.)

But then vacation's over and it's time to fly back to New York. Four bottles of wine, plus 16 jars of jam, plus my laptop mean I can barely roll my suitcase, much less lift it into an overhead bin. "What do you have in here? Diamonds?" the cabdriver asks. I guess he could be forgiven for thinking it's a joke when I tell him it's jam. After all, I usually pass for a yuppie.