“Honey, who preserves sweet cherries in their own juice???” my mom was lecturing me on the way back from the airport. “It’s sour cherries that we’ve always canned that way. The other ones just spoil, bloat, and explode in your face.”
She sounded authoritative, realistic, and very hands-on.
I wanted to say something back but bit my lip instead and got quiet, a slew of bleak thoughts swarming my head. But it wasn’t the thought of losing half a dozen beautiful mason jars in a powerful explosion in the middle of the night and the aftermath of cleaning up a smelly, sticky cherry mess that threatened to dampen our one-and-a-half-year reunion. It was the thought of Mom, preaching from over my shoulder how to do it in the most efficient way possible.
What is it going to be like to live with my mom again and, more importantly, to share my kitchen with her? What will it feel like coming home from work to a sink of clean dishes, organized cabinets, and dusted china? Will I lose my kitchen and my way of running it, however messy it might be? And should I share in the first place? I guess . . . Sharing would be a nice thing to do. This sounds awfully familiar. Where did I hear that? Oh, yeah, is this not what I say to my little one at least one hundred times a day? How can I instill values in Nicole if not by examples I set? I guess, I have to . . . After all, mother knows best, cherries and beyond. I guess . . .
The night was nothing but a long chain of tosses and turns. I woke up the next morning with the sole intention of putting all the guesswork to an end and the mother-knows-best theory to test, at least where it had to do with cherries.
The best way to do it, I figured, would be to just open up a couple of those wrong cherry preserves and taste them. Well, they didn’t taste any less realistic from the inside of the jar. Mildly sweet and super silky, they tasted just like sweet cherries preserved in their own juice, posing a rather competitive filling for any cherry strudel or black forest cherry cake that called for their sour counterpart.
“They taste good, honey, real good,” a hint of democracy breaking through in the tone of her voice this time. “The American sweet cherries must be more forgiving, I guess . . .”
So I did it! Led purely by my inner Remy, childhood memories, and Mom’s chicken scratch, I bottled in a couple pounds of sweet cherries the way you’d handle the sour ones in a passionate attempt to preserve a slice of summer for the long winter ahead. I sooooooooo hope we get one around here this year. I just can’t rule out that one-in-a-million chance of having a huge snow blizzard in Florida that would leave us buried and to our own jars, cans, and bottles.
As every other 15-minutes-of-fame story would have it, I imagined myself ahead of the game, and I thought that if I was able to can sweet cherries, American or Russian, I could can anything. My produce-buying strategy got totally biased by how can-able fruits and veggies might be and what they would pair nicely with. To expand my area of expertise beyond cherry preserves seemed like the next logical step up the canning ladder. And so, with Remy by my side, a ton of sugar in the pantry, and a whole trunk of ideas, I set off on my first jamming endeavor.
That day, as I shopped for groceries, I had a hard time leaving a bin with black plums. Their mature, rugged, dark beauty—scars, marks, and all—kept me coming back until I picked through all of them and ended up with 5 pounds of workable material.
I knew right there and then that they were going to share (making others share is so much easier!) at least half a dozen jars with dainty tea roses, a sweet meaty jam with a delicate herbal flavor on my mind. Beauty and the beast in a way. Could they have a yummy ending? I felt most confident they would. How can you ruin anything with all that sugar?
However, when success came the second time around, I got a bit worried. Things were coming way too easy to me. Was I using too much of the secret ingredient? On second thought . . . Hey, it was a team effort: I cooked, Mom supervised, Kevin tasted, and Remy stood by me in the dark moments of sugar use uncertainty. According to him, less is never more when it comes to jamming.
The jam turned out nothing but a beauty. The “beast” had softened up a lot into a jellied ruby sweetness with a hint of roses so fine it was volatile, teasing you to try and get your taste buds on it with yet another bite.
As soon as two days later, Mom and I were sharing the last jar of it, taking turns to dunk our teaspoons in it and slurping it down with hot tea. I felt content and thought about the possible consumption my litter of five half-pint jars might find in the hands of those who owned them now. The first one ended up with my brother-in-law Slava who might be spreading it on his toast as I write; the second one will be enjoyed on a piece of fresh Mexican cheese (!) by my friend Gloria and her family; the third one will sweeten my friend Mei’s cup of hot tea since she ran out of both bread and cheese.
Wait a minute. That’s only 3. What happened to the fourth jar? Oh, yeah, I hid it to make it go a bit further by spreading it onto linzer cookies for Christmas.
And the more I dunked and slurped, the happier I felt. Food makes me happy. And when I am happy, I eat. I can settle a dispute, find a compromise, and make up over food anytime but there’s nothing like coming to grips with a situation over a cup of tea with homemade jam on a rainy afternoon in autumn, especially when at the other side of the table is your mom. I looked up at her and thought how much I loved her and how thankful I was that she’d been coming over and staying with us every six months out of the year to help me out with Nicole, clutter, and backlogged blog.
I also thought I would start my kitchen-sharing therapy in increments, the first one being a jar of homemade black plum and rose jam . . .
Recipe for Olga’s Original Black Plum and Rose Jam:
1. 2.3 pounds (1 kg) black plums, washed, pitted, and coarsely chopped
2. 2.3 pounds (1 kg) sugar, divided
3. 1 cup (250 ml) water
4. 3 ounces (about 85 g) dried rose buds, divided
Dried rose buds can be purchased in the bulk spices and tea section of most health food stores or online.
5. 2 tablespoons butter
1. To make a rose infusion, steep the buds in a cup of hot water for about 2 hours. The longer you steep, the more concentrated the flavor will become. Strain.
2. Combine the infusion and plums in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
3. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes.
4. Add 2/3 cup (about 150 g) sugar and stir.
5. Keep stirring 2/3 cup sugar into the mixture every 15 minutes for an hour and a half, skimming off foam with a metal spoon.
6. 30 minutes before jam is done, add all of the remaining sugar and butter. Crumble up 10-12 rose buds (about 1 ounce), leaving the green calyxes out, and sprinkle over jam.
7. Cook for the last 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Continue to skim off foam.
8. Pour into sterilized jars and process according to manufacturer’s instructions.
9. Label and store in pantry for up to 1 year.