Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Jam, A Special Guest Post from My Husband!

While I was away at my writer's workshop, D was home with his mom and our kids. Here is a reflection from his time in the kitchen:

While we were returning from FL, we took a pit-stop at Lane Orchards. It is a great place to break. And, if you are lucky, you can see the whole sorting operation. It is pretty impressive looking around at all of the machines and workers as they sort, wash, wax, and pack the peaches into the shipping boxes. That, combined with all the peach paraphernalia that surrounds you in their gift area, can make you pretty dizzy! It also allows your mind to wander, which is how this whole day’s project came into being.

What you may not know is that I like to cook. I always have. I remember growing up watching This Old House and then the cooking shows with my dad.  After Bob and Norm finished their banter over some pretty impressive old homes in New England, Justin Wilson, Julia Child and Jeff Smith took over our Saturday mornings. We loved watching these shows and, eventually, tried some of their recipes. Those are some of the precious memories I have of time with my dad. And it also influenced the first part of my life, leading me to work in the restaurant industry on and off for 15 years.

This love (and sometimes hate) of the kitchen is one other thing that I share with Mary. I’m sure it has been said by someone that if a couple can survive in a kitchen together they can survive anything. We have done more than survive in our small kitchens over the last 11 years. We have strengthened who we are as a couple.

When it was just the two of us, we explored more in the kitchen. Surrounding ourselves with new cookbooks and “foodie” friends, we entertained with some impressive and time-consuming menus. We had seafood gumbo with freshly made shrimp stock, steak au poivre, standing rib roast, and other intensive meals. But now, with three little ones, those times in the kitchen are a little less adventurous for us and more about making sure we get the kids fed. Today was a little different. With my mom here to watch the kids and Mary at her writing workshop, I had a chance to try something new. Jam.

While at Lane I picked up a case of peaches. Maybe it was watching the fresh peaches being packed or the overwhelming sense that I needed peaches after smelling them, maybe it was all the peach souvenirs for sale, but I wanted those peaches. And then I realized that, by grabbing these peaches, I could make something to take along our journey this summer as a little taste from Georgia for our many hosts. A southerner does not visit someone empty-handed, you know.

I grabbed our copy of So Easy to Preserve from the UGA Cooperative Extension and began. (Another little known fact: UGA is the home of the National Center for Home Food Preservation. This program is entirely to help with preserving food in a safe way. Their resources are great, and a lot of information is on their website.) I opened the book to the page on peach jam and saw one of the most basic recipes I have ever seen.

“This is going to be easy,” I thought. I even sent a picture of the recipe to my wife and said “Is that it?”  Her response, “Should be.”  Right.

Setting up the kitchen was pretty easy. I got out the new KitchenAid peeler attachment from Christmas and hooked it up. I pulled out a large pan, the sugar, the jars, the water canner and set up my music.

For me, music in the kitchen is an essential tool, just like the pans and heat. It helps set mood. Something heavy is great for prepping large meals in a shorter time, such as a catered event; Jimmy Buffett, or something similar, brings a more relaxed atmosphere. For today, it was going to be a taste of the south, streaming some great country music from AM 650 WSM out of Nashville, home of the Grand Ole Opry.

This was going to be so easy: Peel the peaches with the KitchenAid, remove the pit, crush the peaches, and cook. Well, the peeler didn’t like the softness of the peach so that went out the window. Now frustration began to enter into the picture. That is not what today was supposed to be about. I took a deep breath, listened to a song, and began to peel by hand. (Thank goodness for the music from WSM.)

When plans don’t go the way you want, you can complain or deal and adapt. In the past I may have done more complaining than adapting, but I am finding that doesn’t help and that adapting is better.  The peaches were still sitting there and they needed peeling, so I hand-peeled the first batch of peaches. This was also a chance to find some inner peace; there is something relaxing about the repetitive motion of peeling peaches. It also releases a sweet fragrance that is quite intoxicating into the air.

I peeled the 8 cups I needed for the recipe and placed them into the pan. I added some heat and that fragrance really opened up and filled the whole house. Then the stirring began, another repetitive motion. Soon the sugar was added and the whole mixture came together and then into the jars they went.

The kids all passed through and told me how great the house smelled. This was another wonderful moment. Here we were, all in the house enjoying this smell. I could have been frustrated about how long this process was taking, about having to peel by hand, and the joy of sticky hot goo hitting my skin as I stirred. But, instead, I was smiling because my kids were enjoying the smell of the jam and asking when they could have some. I adapted and took in the smiles on their faces and their laughter as they were in the other room, away from the dangers of my jam.

Then I looked back at the box of peaches. And there were more. A LOT more. This would be a great time to note that a case of peaches is quite large. I had no idea how large it was, or how many batches of jam it would make. My one case for one batch to take turned into three batches. My “quick, easy project” turned into a most-of-a-day affair. But I was able to learn how to do it a little more quickly the second and third batches. Find a helper to help peel. Remember how I mentioned my mom was visiting? Well, she does a pretty good job peeling peaches.

Tomorrow we will have some of this jam on toast. This simple taste of GA, brought to us by combining peaches, heat and sugar along with patience, laughter, wonder and some country music, allowed me to think back to times with my dad today. Hopefully today, and this taste of GA, will be one of the memories my kids remember as times we spent in our kitchen as we begin our journey.

Now, the recipe for this is pretty simple. You can find the recipe for it, and several other jams and jellies, at http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_jams_jellies.pdf.

I hope you find some time to remember and make some more memories this summer. That is what this entire experience is for our family.


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