My kids are grown now but we still are making memories and strawberry jam together every summer. We love reminiscing about when they were little. I hope you try making it this year too!
Making sweet memories with strawberry jam
Squish, smoosh, stir, repeat. The sweet red juice of freshly picked summer strawberries covers my counter, drips onto the floor, and stains my kid’s shirts. But it’s wonderful because the grins on their faces are priceless. The strawberry-jam-making turn-the-kitchen-red party is an annual affair in our family. A summer rite of passage. We get up extra early, grab a quick breakfast, load in the car, and drive to the country where the strawberries grow.
Greeted by the same farm family every year, we head to the field in a golf cart, empty cardboard boxes on our lap. “Remember, eat all you want while you pick!” the farmer says, watching the kids grin. We marvel at the red jewels covered in dew and spend the next hour filling our boxes, while my mom and I answer questions about how strawberries grow, what else is on this farm, and, yes, “Why is the sky blue?” We bounce back on the golf cart with our mounds of fresh sweet berries and visit the goats, chickens, and rabbits before we head for home.
Later in the day, my deep white sinks full of floating red berries, my son and daughter wash, while Nana and I stem and cut them up. Then the squishing begins – with a potato masher as old as I am, they take turns smooshing the berries in small amounts, then pouring the mashed goodness into a deep pan on the stove. While we work, we talk. And it’s different than the talk while we play.
Nana talks about growing a big garden in World War II. The kids hear her vibrant description of growing, picking, and preserving the foods that would keep them alive all winter. Their eyes grow large when she tells them there was “no store to go buy food” in the small European town where she spent her childhood years. She shares her own experiences of making memories and strawberry jam, among all the other food they put up in those years.
Meanwhile, we boil the berries, add the sugar and pectin, and the kids help stir, standing on stools with oven mitts that dwarf their hands, until the steam is too hot and they relinquish the stirring to the adults. While mom and I fill and seal the jars, the kids create homemade labels, drawing strawberries and asking “How do you spell jam” and my son, “How many “Rs” in strawberry?”
While the jars cool we sample our work – big piles of red jam barely contained on the bread are devoured in record time. The corners of our mouths are red and we laugh – even Nana looks messy. We carefully label the cooled jars, using a saucer of whole milk as an adhesive, dipping each handmade label and smoothing it onto a jar – another secret learned from jam-making, passed down from my uncle in Switzerland.
The freezer full of the summer’s bounty, we move on to the cleanup. That’s fun in a way too, and as the kids run off to share a jar of jam with the neighbors, my mom and I talk about the experiences of the day. And all year, as we get each month’s jar of jam from the freezer, (yes, we ration them), the kids talk about picking the berries, riding the golf cart, and all the squishing, smooshing and smashing that goes into the making of strawberry jam.
I haven’t been able to find a local pick-your-own strawberry farm for the last two years, so now we shop for our berries at the Farmer’s Market, but the rest of the process is much the same. The step ladder is gone- my kids are taller than me now, and the kitchen isn’t covered in red when we are done, but we still make the jam together and it triggers so many memories. There is nothing mysterious about making jam – buy a package of Surejell, buy some berries, and start making some squishy memories and strawberry jam with your kiddos.