There is too much jam in my life…strawberry jam

I‘m making jam–because it’s jam season again. I don’t know why I make so much jam. I don’t eat a lot of jam, but it’s the first thing we all learn to preserve, so I make it year after year. It’s hard to mess up except one year I didn’t pay attention to something and my peach “jam” was soupy goop so I changed the label to “syrup” and gave it to people to put on yogurt and ice cream.

I used it for oatmeal, to carbonate kombucha, and iced tea, too. Problem solved.

But still, get buried in jam. It threatens to take over my shelves. I have enough for the zombie apocalypse and then some from other years.

It’s time to eat the jam before I make more. Or… dump it off on other people.

One of the best things to do as a poser homesteader is dump jam off on friends. If I a ribbon on it or put a Martha Stewart label over the top where I’ve written a date from five years ago, it looks just like a Christmas or Summer Solstice gift.

I brought a few bottles into work last year I’m working remote these days, but I was going into to New York City once a week so I can see humans instead of chickens. It was good for my soul.  One of the added benefits was the ability to “share” my homestead food with unsuspecting friends.

I really love these people, which is why I felt a little guilty dumping jam on them. I picked peach, blueberry, and strawberry off my shelves, bought a loaf of bred at Zaros, the bakery at the train station, and arranged it on the table where the snacks magically appeared.

Here, that jam would’ve gotten the same degree of gratitude you gave a great aunt when she knit you that holiday sweater your mom made you wear in public.  Rural people know when other people are dumping jam, zucchini relish, and worse–zucchini itself–on them. It’s why we put up “beware of dog” signs.

But not in New York. Even year-old “vintage” jam was a hit. So much so, I started taking orders. For weeks, I put mason jars of “I love blueberry!” and “Bring me raspberry!” on people’s desks until  I got to a safe level at home. Then, I said, “Put your orders in. The season’s approaching.”

“That’s so nice of you!” people said. That’s when I felt true guilt.  If you only saw my pantry…

Jam is a thing of excess, a rural afterthought.  The thing you give when you have nothing to give. It’s like “the chips” at a picnic. If you’re “the chip guy” when people tell you what to bring to the party, you have no value. The meat dude’s important. The beer guy–mission critical. But the chip person? You’ll survive without them.

That’s where jam ranks in the grand scheme of things.

So, to see people look forward to jam–to respect it even?  “I dream of getting out into the country like that,” one person said. I noticed something–homesteading and simplicity are spreading even more than I realized. So many more people want to get back to the basics in the best way they can.

When I started my poser homestead, people gave me the “You’re weird!” look. Colleagues said things like, “If I had your time” and “What is that!!” to my mason jars, followed by “No thanks.”

But in the city, I was suddenly cool–even with year-old jam.

This is an important shift.  Food is a social thing. Food defines us. It’s cultural, economic, geographical–it gets to the core of everything we are.

“That’s so cool that you can do that…”  We had some good conversations about food and chickens and how good it was to have “some land.”

“I’m glad you like the jam,” I said. I had to confess. “This is last year’s.” No one cared. I continued. “You know, some people would say… that making jam isn’t ‘cool’ (She’d said, ‘That’s so cool!’)… it’s sort of what grandmothers and thrifty people do in my area to save money.”

By driving down a little ways the road with a few jars of old jam I went from “Swamp Yankee” and “Wood hick” to Brooklyn chic. I’ve never been cool before–it was fun.

But it’s more than fun–it’s an important mindset shift back to the basics. The supermarket of of the 50s and 60s “liberated” us from having to grow, farm, can, and produce food. It was cool at first. But today, when most families need two jobs, “getting to grow your own food” is again a privilege. The jam was a good reminder.

It doesn’t take much to learn to source, grow, and preserve food or to connect with a farmer, local market, or do a bit of research into where your food comes from.  I’m lucky to “get to” grow some of mine and to have so many farmers around me for the rest.  If the great jam dump taught me one thing it’s this–everyone should “get to” do such things, or at least have access to food that doesn’t come from a box.

Fast forward to Summer 2020. I’m editing this post in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. Over the past years I tried to be more reasonable about my jam and branch out to food sourcing and preserving things we eat–soup, chili, meats, meals, fresh (but frozen) fruits. That served me well. As supply chains broke, I had what I needed–mostly. But for the rest, I had my network of farmers and small places locally.  That was an even better reminder for a nation that’s gotten used to “Amazon now” delivery speeds.

I “get to” make some jam, slow down a bit, and connect with my farmers and land.  Everyone can, and should. It’s not impossible if you know where to look or start. It’s darned easy in my area, but even in the big cities, there’s a market, an artisan cheese shop, the sausage place… if you know where to look, you’ll find the jam–and everything else. You don’t really need to make it or have some land.

For me, I’m grateful I can and do, and I’m humbled by the people who appreciate these things.  So, this time around, I’m making extra jam–intentionally… for a great jam gift, not a dump. And if you’re really nice, you’ll get some other cool stuff, too.