Monday, May 31, 2010

Jamming with the Boys

Memorial Day was bright and breezy- perfect for picking strawberries and a great way to keep my 13 and 9 year old boys busy. They agreed and so we ended up at Springdale Farm. As always it turned into a competition - who would pick the largest and who the most squishy and so it turned out to be a fun filled afternoon. It was also fruitful (pun intended) -We picked a good 10 lbs of strawberries.

Back at home I got them busy hulling and cutting the larger ones into quarters. After a good rinse they were thrown into a large heavy bottomed pot to simmer with masses of sugar. Stirring continuously, the strawberries were cooked briefly till the sugar dissolved completely, before adding in liquid Pectin which is essential for the jam to set properly.
Spring is usually the time of year when I fish out my kettle and pickling tools. This task would be twice as hard without the funnel for filling hot jam into the jars and the metal tongs which are coated with rubber for picking up hot jars out of the kettle. This part was tricky as it always is when working with hot liquids, but working as a team, we did a fairly efficient job. The jars were sterilized in boiling water, filled and sealed. I recycled my assortment of glass jars but bought new lids and bands to ensure proper sealing.

Projects around the house are a great way to bond with kids and teach them to work as a team and sometimes along the way, they pick up good skills too. It was a great way to make Memorial Day truly memorable, but the best part was slathering the luscious, gooey jam onto toast and tasting it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Trip Home

On a recent trip to India I took the bull by the horns and braved it to a local vegetable market. Much as I take delight in shopping for food the mere thought of crowds of people, dust and vermin were enough to curb my enthusiasm. Sure enough it was exactly as I had imagined but my apprehensions were short lived. The jovial cooperation of the vendors as they posed shyly for pictures and the freshness of the produce quickly reminded me that this was home.

Unlike here in the Western world, most markets in the under developed world still gather under makeshift tin and bamboo shelters with time warped wooden shelving covered with scraps of newsprint and coarse sackcloth salvaged from packaging material. It is quite remarkable that despite the conditions the produce is so fresh that most of it still has bits of dirt and straw clinging as it makes its short journey from the farm to the market. The concept of branding, processing or packaging is completely alien to them as most often the produce is harvested, distributed and sold the same day.

I confess that I have slipped and grown accustomed to finding flawless clean and perfect produce as I browse through the supermarket aisles. There is an endless supply of genetically engineered produce year round and seasonality is a thing of the past. Things were not the same in the Bazaar as it is referred to back in India. Mounds of sticky pineapple dripping with nectar, mature coconuts with their coarse husks intact, sugarcane tied in bunches towering perilously over the tin rooves and bunches of tiny imperfect bananas swirling from the ceiling evoked a strange nostalgia in me.

India in general can give you sensory overload and this is exemplified dramatically in the Bazaar. Cows amble alongside scooter rickshaws, Kawasaki motorcycles, and rabid dogs. Shop vendors continually sprinkle water on their produce and on the sidewalks to keep the dust and flies at bay. The smells of over ripe fruit compete with roasting spices, garbage and incense. In my opinion one may love India or dislike it but it will not be ignored....
To me it is home - the familiar sights and sounds inspired me to head straight to the kitchen in the home where I had not so long ago, shelled peas and peeled potatoes at my mother's side.