talented

Sometimes I think I’m more talented in the domestic arena than I am in actuality. This is because I am occasionally seized with the romantic idea that it would be healthy and crafty and enterprising of me to make things from scratch – the old fashioned way! – where I know which ingredients went into it and could feel a sense of pride and accomplishment from my wondrous creations. I feel this way even when I bake from a mix, though, so I don’t know why I feel the need to expand, especially since I lack: (a) appropriate tools; (b) experience; and (not or) (c) knowledge in what the hell I’m even trying to do.

Last summer I had this brainstorm of making jam. I had this hazy memory of making peach jam with my mom back in the day, and in my foggy memory it did not seem…you know, complicated or hard or anything. So last summer when I went strawberry-picking with my brother’s family (and came home with several enormous baskets of strawberries, destined to go bad in less than a week) I decided to test myself. Jam! JAM! I was ON IT! It was going to be GREAT!

Well, it went pretty much like this, as memorialized in this email exchange with my mother:

Mom,

So we made the strawberry jam on Tuesday and it was mayhem, even more screaming and cursing around here than usual. It was a lot easier with you years ago! Also, with the correct equipment. Not having a rack that would fit in the pan I had to use a metal basket and then the top wouldn’t fit on it and it took 10 years to boil and I thought the strawberry would overcook in the meantime and got hysterical and was screaming at the pot of water to BOIL!!! NOW!!! (which does not work, for future reference, that adage about watched pot not boiling is TRUE) and [Other Half] had to send me out of the kitchen to calm down. Then we had a hell of a time getting the jars out of the basket, full of water now, with a pair of barbecue tongs – I was in the process of another freak out when [Other Half] said, ok, just let me do it, and fished them out with aid of a pancake spatula. Success! I was feeling pleased while filling the jars and attaching the lids until [Other Half] says, yeah, ok, but now how are we going to get them back in?

Hysteria, back up to HIGH. I…. had to leave the room again so I don’t know what happened, exactly, but when I came back they were back in the basket boiling away; they seemed to be sealed afterwards and we’ll taste test one this weekend.

I’m not saying I’ll never do this again, but I might invest in a canning set, is what I’m saying.

Hope you can make a trip up here soon.

A.

Dear Angela,

So sorry, it is a bit complicated the first time but patience is helpful.

Possibly, freezer jam next time.

Anyway, don’t give up, the result of yummy jam is worth a second effort!

Much love,

Mom

It’s been a year, and jam has not actually been attempted again, even though I have now purchased a set of canning tongs specifically designed to retrieve jars from vats of boiling water. I’m waiting for the memories of the Strawberry Jam Incident to sufficiently fade in memory – Other Half’s more so than mine – before bringing it all up again. But in the meantime there has been an Important Development! Both my mother (somehow not frightened off by SJI) and my sister – similarly crafty although far more actually accomplished than me – sent me books about making things in the kitchen – canning, pickling and such. I was inspired right away. Pickles! Kimchee! (I already know how to make kimchee! I’m ahead!) Strawberry syrup! Bacon! Bacon? Really, I can cure my own bacon? That’s…well, sorta weird in a way but …fabulous! I don’t even know where we keep butchers in DC, but I will FIND ONE and make my own bacon and it will be Deliciousville.

Still mindful of the previous disaster, I attempted my first recipe very quietly. It’s mustard. Mustard involves – uh, powdered mustard, and vinegar, and maybe some sugar? I forget. Yes! Sugar, because I am out of granulated and just used brown sugar, so it is a brownishy mustard percolating in my pantry instead of goldeny yellow. Percolating away, I said, because apparently mustard has to sit for 3 weeks before you can eat it. Who knew! So it was mixed on the sly while Other Half was at work, and hidden in a back corner to await revelation at a key moment, for Other Half to be Amazed and Delighted at my Crafty Qualities.

(No, you do not need to tell me to quietly test it first before I reveal it to him. That goes without saying.)

Unfortunately, I was unable to hide the apple butter from him. First, because I had to buy a huge bag of apples in front of him, which really should have made him suspicious right off the bat. The recipe said 8 pounds but I am not peeling 8 goddamn pounds of apples for anybody so I bought 4. Or close to it, I dunno how reliable those scales at the grocery store are. Anyway, I bought 4ish pounds of Honeycrisp apples, because I like them and the recipe said “sweet apples” and “Honeycrisp” = “sweetish” in my opinion, a couple of lemons, and I forgot to buy sugar again so I guess I’m using brown sugar.

Apple Butter: A Play in 4 Acts

Act 1: (Early evening. Kitchen and Living Room of Washington DC townhouse.) Female character, Heroine, awkwardly peels 4ish pounds of Honeycrisp apples and places on lightly oiled baking pans. Follows directions to “bake at 350 for 2 hours until brown and fragrant“. Eats huge pile of apple peelings while waiting and watching back-to-back episodes of Criminal Minds. Becomes violently ill, reminiscent-of-but-not-nearly-as-bad-as the time she ate a whole bag of candy corn for dinner.

-Intermission-

 Act 2: (2 hours later.) Heroine removes charred and blackened apples from oven. Rereads recipe in confusion. Author has assured Reader that roasting apples for 2 hours results in gorgeous caramelization. Does charred and blackened = caramelized in Author’s World? Has Heroine screwed up for good this time? Can This Apple Butter Be Saved?

 Act 3: (Minutes later.) Heroine decides to be Scrappy and Have Grit and Forge Ahead and all that and adds least-charred & blackened apples with lemon juice and sugar/cinnamon/spice mix to Magic Bullet she is using as food processor because Other Half made her give away her food processor last year since she had had it for 6 years and had never used it. Magic Bullet begins smoking with effort of grinding charcoal briquets into a “creamy consistency”. Heroine adds extra lemon juice and finally some tap water in desperation.  Magic Bullet slowly produces some kind of chunky, burned-cinnamon-smelling dark brown paste that Heroine is, quite frankly, afraid to even try. She attaches lid to container and hides in refrigerator for Other Half to come home and be a Willing Vict- er, that is, Taster.

 Act 4: (Many hours, if not days, later.) Other Half is rooting about in refrigerator when he stumbles across a jar of brown paste.

Other Half:     What is this?

Heroine:        Ohhhhhh….I made apple butter! Do you want to try it?

Other Half:    This is apple butter? Why is it that color?

(Pause.)

Heroine:         Because…I used brown sugar.

(Feels guilty.)

Other Half:    Oh, ok.

Heroine:        Wait! I want to get my camera!

                    (Not guilty enough.)

Other Half:    You want to take pictures of me eating apple butter? Why?

Heroine:        I… just want to get your reaction.

It’s exciting, that’s all. My first apple butter.

Other Half:     Uh, ok.

Heroine (with camera poised): Ok, go!

Other Half stirs apple butter, takes bite, looks off in distance contemplatively.

Other Half:      Hmm. It tastes like…like ….OH MY GOD! (choking noises) Blechh! Blecchh!! BURNED! GROSS! What IS this??!!? (hunched over sink, spitting noises). WHAT THE &*&^ IS IN THIS?!? Blecchhhh!! Blecchh!! (coughing, choking,  scraping tongue with paper towels, sponges, etc.).

Heroine:     (click, click, click)

(Some minutes later)

Other Half:     Ok, YOU NEED to explain this to me. IN WHAT WAY, exactly, was that apple butter? WHAT did you do?

Heroine:        It’s not my fault.

Other Half:    That blasphemy I just ate was definitely your fault. What did you DO? Apple butter is not hard.

Heroine:        Yeah, so I’ve been misled to believe. I think the apples might have burned.

Other Half:    YES. They were.  No “might have” in there.

Heroine:        But it said to cook them for 2 hours and I did! See?

(shows recipe to Other Half)

Other Half:     It says “cook for 2 hours – OR – until brown and fragrant”.

Heroine:        ….Oh.

Curtain.

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