Last week, I made eleven jars of raspberry jam. (It was supposed to be twelve jars, but apparently the portions I spooned into the mason jars were too generous. Oh well.) Only I would do this: never having made jam before in my life, I decided to make it at 10 at night, when the kitchen was cluttered with dishes to be done, and me in my favorite tank top (BUDDHAFUL stretches across the front of it) that I didn’t really want to stain with splotches of red. But I had bought a flat of organic raspberries at the farmers’ market that day, and I suddenly realized I should probably make them the day I bought them. My 74-year-old friend, Mary, gave me the recipe for freezer jam as we bobbed in the pool today. (Hydrofit at the Magnolia outdoor pool, on a clear blue-skied day, genuinely hot, and 60 people in the water.) And I went right from there to Ballard, where they close off several cobblestoned streets to all the local farmers, selling their homegrown cheeses and wines, fit-to-burst peaches, and gorgeous Rainier cherries. Every week now, since I returned home from Sitka, I meander over to the famers’ market on Sunday, and I always enjoy it. But that day, the sun shone fiercely, not a cloud in the sky, and I watched everyone’s mood lighten with each passing moment. My downstairs neighbor came with me, and at a certain point, she turned to me and said, “Have I just been hibernating beneath a rock for months? How have I not been here yet?” I don’t know. I’m glad she came. A Jamaican man played the steel drums on the sidewalk in front of the peaches. Another man with shades stretched across his face played the electric guitar, contorting his face to emote. And a pale man handed out free balloons shaped into animals, although the little kids all seemed scared by them. And there was a moment in the middle of it all, when a plastic bag stuffed with fresh fruit dragged on my left arm, and the sun shone through my smudged sunglasses, when I could feel my body open to all this happiness and just let go into it.
Somehow, I can taste all this in the jam now.
I’d never made jam before, but now it feels like time. Since I got the gluten-free diagnosis, and I’m feeling healthier than I ever have in my life, I’ve been cooking continuously. The other day, I bought a bottle of olive oil from Sicily so exquisite that the shopkeeper had me taste a spoonful, without any accompaniment. It tasted like sharp green olives, warmed by the sun. I closed my eyes to taste it better. So I made homemade pesto, with organic basil and toasted pine nuts, and the olive oil melding it all together. Yum. Hummus with lemon juice, kalamata olives, and cilantro. I could eat that every day. Quinoa pasta. Arugula salads with local goat cheese. Sauteed chicken salad with parsley and scallions. And now, this jam, which tastes like raspberries, warmed in the sun.
There’s something deeply satisfying about these domestic tasks. When I was younger, I had no time for them, thinking them something that women in the 50s did. (My brief, angry feminist phase.) But now, I realize that cooking food, doing the dishes, and (now) making jam, are just meditative acts. And considering that I’ll be giving most of these away as gifts, it’s just another way to love people.
I never would have made jam if I hadn’t found out I can’t eat gluten.