Government Jam

I’m an avid gardener. Avid, meaning ‘enthusiastic,’ not ‘successful.’ I shouldn’t say that. I’m great with herbs and this year, my squash and tomatoes are all blooming nicely. The wait for fresh produce became a bit too tiring and I stumbled upon something to make the time pass more quickly.

As I walk my dog each day on more or less the same route, I pass a small roadside park. It’s a modest affair: a couple of swings, with a jungle gym rooted in recycled tires a few yards down. Behind it lies only forest, the kind that the deer, squirrels and beavers that I see intermittently love to hide in during the day. It’s also the home of blackberry brambles.

I remember picking blackberries at my grandmother’s house when I was young. They were never sweet until it was hot and sticky and we would spray down with the Ozark elixir of Avon Skin-So-Soft and try to pick our fill. They don’t call them brambles for nothing. They don’t yield their treasures easily, instead guarding them with thorns and stickers.

Well, nothing has changed since I was a child. Along the walking path, a few weeks ago, I began to spy bright red berries. They called to me to come off the pavement and into the grass to see what sweetness they may hold. Off I trotted, faithful pooch in tow, to see what I would find.

I found a treasure trove. Fat blackberries nestled under leaves and among the bright red unripe berries. I tried one straight off the bush. It was sweet, much sweeter than the mutantly large Driscoll berries safe in their plastic cases at the store. They were smaller, but they tasted like nature and summer and endless youth.

So I did was any sane person would do: I took the unused doggy poop bag and started picking. I figured that I would pick a cup or two, maybe enough to make a small pie. Instead, the savage hunger of a forager took over. I was Katniss Everdeen, foraging for her family and for survival. I was a gatherer, going back to my roots. Getting groceries had never been so fulfilling, as I stood in the heat and thorns, picking berries, brushing away spiders and watching aubergine juice run down my fingers. My dog was confused.

This became a routine. Take the dog for a walk, bring an extra bag. Pick a pound of berries. New ones ripened every two or three days and I went back for them. It was either me or the birds. The birds don’t pay taxes in this neighborhood, so I figured that I had a right to them. Soon I had several pounds of berries; ready for whatever I could make them into.

The answer, my friends, is jam. I made jam. I’m not sure why I always had the image of a long laborious process for making jam, but I did. After spilling a few cupfuls into a cobbler, I set about the arduous labor of smashing blackberries and setting them to boil. Who am I kidding? That was fun.

A few minutes later, after the addition of pectin, a dash of sugar and a few sage leaves, I had what looked to be, by all rights, jam. I canned it for preservation and looked on my accomplishment with a sense of pride. Not only had I made delicious jam, I had made it for nearly free! Government jam is the best jam.

What’s the lesson in all this? Besides the fact that you should always have an extra doggie bag, it’s that there are little gifts all around you, if you slow down enough to see them. Look into the trees a little. You never know what you might find.