Jam making has always been an extremely sensual experience for me in every sense of the word. Taste, beauty, smell, touch, inspiration inevitably hits at about 98 degrees F when fruit starts to drip off of trees in fertility inducing heat. As if from a dream, as nature intended, you immediately wake to craving an addiction not felt for about 10 months. Capturing lightning in a bottle is heady stuff indeed. Sparks of permanence shoot out of every jar, until it is consumed, leaving nothing behind but the jar begging to be refilled. I am spurred my some interior fire, adding to the heat that usually spends me but on jam and canning days excites me. I have been known to close all window shades, turn on the fans and make jam naked under my apron. Unless there are people around.
I have made jam only once with a date and it was probably the sexiest experience I have ever had. He was a much younger guy, the executive chef at a local golf club, who had never made jam before and asked me to teach him. We had been dancing around each other for a few months, having dinner, taking hikes, but never anything solidly sexual yet, not even a real kiss. Being a single guy, barely 30, he had nothing we needed for jam making at his house, younger chefs are notorious for this, and I had a 7 year old at mine.
So I went to the farmers market choosing just ripe enough peaches and nectarines, strawberries whose fragrance I could detect before I had a bead on them and picked the herbs from my garden almost whispering incantations of passion as I went along. l gathered everything we needed, enticing him with combinations of white nectarines and rose geranium and peach with lavender as I unloaded pots, strainers, tongs and sun swollen fruits, ready for the jar from my van at his house. Cooking equipment always excites chefs and food adds immensely to the fire while a new process learned to be tried out on clients or customers is intoxicating with possibilities. At first it was all business. Getting the canner boiling, sterilizing jars, cleaning and cutting up fruit in preparation for boiling with sugar and pectin and making sure all mise en place was in order. Having a smallish kitchen, it was inevitable that our arms and thighs brushed one another at times during the lesson. He was a beautiful student and beyond willing to learn and I kept thinking, “I cannot be the only one this turned on”.
As his counter filled up with glistening jars of brilliantly gemstone colored jars of jam, as the evening wore on, he suggested something to eat. I loved hearing him say that because I loved watching him eat. It was endless the amount of food he could consume with such reverence and curiosity, speaking the same language I do as I eat, especially at a new restaurant with new culinary experiences. He suggested a little Italian place around the corner from his house and we settled in at a little table for two. He ordered several items off the menu as we are wont to do without regard for what we will finish, taste being the goal of the dining event. Kicking off my sandals under the table to cool off came as naturally as wiping a bead of sweat from my brow. As we sipped wine, after a hot afternoon and evening of jam making, it hit hard and fast. Eating garden warm tomatoes with Burratta and balsamic, torn basil acidic sweet on the tongue, fat, juicy prawns sautéed in olive oil and lemon, prosciutto silky alongside dripping melon, we slowly became so inflamed with food passion that when out feet touched under the table accidently, we both jumped. He had kicked his sandals off as well and he reached for my hand. Imploring with his eyes, “Is this ok?” Feeling allure, carnality and innocence all at once, covered with goose bumps, still smelling caramelized sugar and boiling fruit in my head, I almost fainted. It took everything we had to finish eating and make it out to his truck before we started devouring each other in kisses unlike previously shared.
Ending up at his house, as we walked into the back kitchen door, engulfed with olfactory overload, scents of lavender, rose geranium and fruits, he looked at me and silently, actually picked me up, that does not happen much in my 5 foot eleven life, and that was the beginning of my jam passion summer with the chef. It is somewhat of a surprise to me that there are no soft core porn movies involving jam making or even cooking together for that matter. I mean Babettes Feast is pretty sexy and Eat, Drink, Man and Woman is crazy but a jam making stand alone, I have not seen that one.
I won’t even get into pickles in this one. For another time. Suffice to say, if you have not made jam, in the heat of summer, fruit luminous, begging to be boiled and slathered on bread, it is time. Better yet shared with a special someone.
Strawberry and Basil Jam
2 cups sugar
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
2 large or 4 small basil leave
2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
Combine the sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strawberries and continue to cook over very low heat for 35 minutes, until the strawberries release some of their juices and the mixture boils slowly. Cook until a small amount of the juice gels on a very cold plate, about 30 minute more. (I keep one in the freezer.) Pour carefully into 2, sterile pint canning jars and place either 1 big or 2 small basil leaves in each jar. Either process in a water bath for 10 minutes or keep refrigerated. Refrigerated jam will keep for a couple of weeks.