Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This is My Jam Song!!

As some of you may know, I am a huge jam fan. I don't eat it very often, but when I do I love thick, sticky, lumpy jams like my Grandma Betty used to make. 

My Grandma used to make awesome jams. I have wonderful memories of staying with my grandparents for the weekend, and when I woke up in the morning my Grandad would make oatmeal, and Grandma would make me toast. There was a little jam caddy that would be brought to the table, usually with either plum or apricot jam, and we'd enjoy breakfast together listening to classical music on the radio and watching rainbows dance across the table. The rainbows were made by a little table lamp with a crystal base that my Grandma would bring to the table every morning just for that purpose.

Until last fall, it had been 20 years since I'd tasted jam like my Grandmother's. Sean & I stole away to Salt Spring Island for a long weekend to partake in their apple festival. The weather was not great, but we stayed at a very comfortable little bed & breakfast (really, you should go there) and drove around to the various apple farms to sample their crops and buy apples & preserves. At one of these little farms, I bought a jar of plum jam from someone's great-aunt and it took me back to my childhood. I even composed a song in honour of the jam, which I will sing for you one day if you get me very, very drunk.

I stumbled upon a blog last week (The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking) with a foolproof Plum Lemon Jam recipe. Later that week at the farmers' market I came across the first of the plums; some tiny red ones little bigger than cherries. I already had some unwaxed apples from the organic grocer (for natural pectin), as well as sugar and lemons. It was serendipity. I picked up a canning kit on the way home and got busy! The aforementioned blog recommended Tigress in Jam's blog for instructions on hot water bath processing which were extremely helpful.

Things I learned from my first foray into canning:

Horrible mess.
  1. Pick bigger plums. I had a bitch of a time pitting ten thousand little MFing plums to get enough by weight for the recipe. Bigger plums!
  2. If using apple peels for pectin, peel the whole apple in one long curl. Otherwise, when the jam is done you're stuck picking through the dark purple goo trying to tell the difference between apple skins (bad) and plum skins (good). The answer; there is no difference. Oh well, this batch might be a bit chewy.
  3. Steam is hot and steam burns are ouchy. Wear oven mitts even when you don't think you need them.
  4. Keep a full, boiled kettle on hand in case you need to top up the canner.
  5. It's very easy to make a horrific mess, so plan your space accordingly, and have everything you need on hand.
  6. It's not that hard to do. Sure, my jam will not be winning any awards, but it won't be giving anyone botulism either!

Here's the finished product! I'm happy to relate that all the jars sealed, so they should last a little while... so long as I can show some restraint.

By the way, the author of one of the blogs I referred to has their own book!

The Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking: Decorating, Dining, and the Gratifying Pleasures of Self-Sufficiency--on a Budget!

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Canuck in Uncle Sam's Backyard

Last night it rained so hard that it washed away the grass.

This is a strange land full of fireflies and alien insects, of trees and plants that look like they belong in a jungle far away. But I guess I am the one far away, and it is I who am out of place.

Last weekend we drove. Our destination was Sean's family in New Brunswick, Canada. We were driving home. We left here the evening of June 30th and arrived, appropriately enough, on Canada Day.

Despite my 5000 km trek across the continent, the drive was a challenge because it was 1300 kms in one leg, overnight. We drove through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine before crossing into New Brunswick.

An interesting anecdote; 30 minutes south of the border in Maine we stopped at a gas station for provisions and the clerk told me she'd been to Canada once, but she didn't know which state (province) she'd been in. I was thinking about this last night and wondering if we (Canadians, and everyone else in the world) paint Americans as ignorant because they are, or just because we don't really understand them (or like them- as a group, not individually). Is it ignorant to live just across an international border and not know anything about the other side, or it just a result of nationalistic navel gazing? Are we any better? I mean, I could probably name 40 of the 50 states before I moved here, and all of them now, but is this because I'm a well rounded, educated, informed citizen of the world (ahem, if i do say so myself), or is it a result of living within the sphere of dominance of a culturally pervasive Hegemon? I can't say I know anything about Mexico.

Education aside, (that's a whole other argument) I'm thinking that the differences in global awareness between Canadians and Americans is cultural. Americans are proud, extremely proud of who they are. They have remained more or less isolationist culturally, despite messing around in everyone else's business militarily and economically. While there are regional differences, as an outsider it's clear that Americans are patriots. They know where they came from, they know their own history (as they choose to remember it), and they know who they are. They are red, white & blue, apple pie & BBQ, thanks giving, God-fearing Americans. They don't apologize, but they do feel slightly sorry for anyone who is not American (so long as you stay in your own country). Maybe there's nothing wrong with that.

As a Canadian, I find all this flag waving a bit disturbing, but that is a product of my own cultural education.

In Canada, we're all really interested in our individual roots (mine are Scottish, English, Algonquin First Nations* by the way (*we think)). Many families spend generations in Canada and still identify with their home country. And we're more or less ok with that. We speak French and English, but you'll find signs in Chinese, Hindi, Punjabi and others in many of our bigger cities. We're still apologizing for the awful things our ancestors did to our First Nations peoples. We're not too worried about our own politics because we know that whoever gets elected, it won't make that big of a difference in what does or doesn't get done. When pressed to identify a 'typical Canadian food' to an outsider, a lot of us would cop out and say Kraft Dinner. We see Canada Day as a day off work, and not a whole lot more.

What binds us together as Canadians? Hockey, high taxes and health care would be my guess, paired with an strong sense of being 'un-american'. You'd probably have a different answer, and I guess that's my point. You can't really put a finger on what it is to be Canadian, but we still love our country.

We just shut up about it.

One of Sean's coworkers (also Canadian) told him when we got here that you'll never feel more Canadian than when you're living in the States. This is very true. Right now my biggest hurdle in accepting my new home is losing the chip on my shoulder about what 'They' don't know about 'Us', and instead focusing on letting go of my own prejudices about them. It'll never be home, but I want to learn to love it for what is is.