Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas in June

Suppress your anger now, folks, because I am going to share a handy idea for de-stressing your NEXT Christmas. Not this one. This post probably won't do you a lick of good for the current holiday season. 

For the sake of this post, let’s assume that you have a group (or several groups) of friends, acquaintances, colleagues, clients, etc. to whom you enjoy giving a token of appreciation every Christmas. Just a little something to say “I like you.”

Yet even if you only spend $5-10 on each aforementioned gift, this amount can quickly add up. Plus, you have to go shopping for those gifts, potentially adding to stress during the holiday season and/or consuming resources that might better be left under a mountain or inside a barrel.

Enter Christmas gifts made in June.

Now I don’t know about you, but when Thanksgiving rolls around, and everything needs to be done in oh-my-God-the-next-thirty-days, I have other things to do besides create home-made presents, which is one of the key ideas that everyone recommends for de-consumerizing, de-stressing, de-stickershocking the holiday season. 

You know what I mean: batches of fudge, loads of home-baked cinnamon bread, jelly jars full of make-your-own food projects (hot chocolate mix, soup, etc.). Yumminess that will, in short order, be augmenting the fat reserves of the gift recipient. I am the lucky friend of several of these enterprising folks, but have never been inclined to do this myself. No, I discovered this particular technique, the topic of this blog post which you are now wishing that I would actually begin discussing, quite by accident.

There was no clever strategizing or thinking ahead involved; just the happy fact that the plums growing in my backyard ripen in June, and they need immediate attention, which means processing. My plums happen to be quite tart and so, the first year that they ripened, I turned the whole harvest (one tree’s worth) into jam, somewhere around four batches of it, yielding around 26 half-pints of plum jam. 

Then, when the holiday season rolled around, I remembered all that jam in my pantry, already conveniently made, ready to give to friends without any additional post-Thanksgiving effort on my part. As it turns out, plum jam happens to hold a special place in the hearts of many Americans.

At least here in Oklahoma, plum jam is closely associated in the minds of a great many people with their sweet sainted Memas or Nannas or Grannys, who used to spread the stuff on fresh-baked biscuits so their darling grandchild could snarf it down while cuddling with Gramma while reading their favorite Pooh book for the seventieth time while receiving cherished toys while getting kisses on their jam-smeared cheeks.

You know… love.

And so, when one gives a jar of plum jam to one’s friend/colleague/client/acquaintance, one might immediately acquire an invisible aura that reads “Someone a bit like my Granna who loved me so much.” The aura might subsequently be addended to read (depending on your jam-making skill): “who makes jam so incredibly delicious that I would fight in the Mad Max Thunderdome for it, if I had appropriate armor and weapons available.”

Ahem. Not saying that’s me.

As I mentioned before, I discovered the Plum Jam Granny Love connection quite by accident, because I had an entire pantry full of plum jam  and a simultaneous need for gifts for wonderful friends, and I only noticed the happy coincidence of the matter after the nineteenth person told me that their Nanny used to make plum jam JUST LIKE this, and by the way, it’s already three-quarters gone, in case you happen to have any more???

So, long story short: whether or not you happen to have plums ripening in your backyard next summer, there is undoubtedly a regional food specialty associated with loving kindness in your area, and, because of the nature of ripening fruit, it will most likely need to be batched up in June, July, or August. 

So if you don’t mind being mentally associated with all the best, most magical and loving memories of your friend’s childhoods, you might consider making your Christmas presents next summer, and save yourself some money, time, and trouble when December rolls around. 

Tips:
  • If you don’t grow your own fruit, you may need to scavenge the plums/apples/peaches/blackberries from an abandoned orchard (with permission of course), or harvest the fruit at a u-pick operation, or simply buy the stuff from the farmer’s market. The taste and ripeness of the fruit is essential, however, appearance is unimportant: ugly fruit is quite acceptable.
  • Think ahead: ensure you have the proper equipment and supplies before the time comes to make your project, whatever it is - apple pie in a jar, plum jam, preserves. A water bath canner is most likely a necessity, and tools like jar lifters and lid lifters can make the whole process much easier and safer. You could borrow the equipment for the first year, to find if you like the experiment, and then invest in it if you plan to continue the project (or when you simply fall in love with jamming and canning). You will, however, need to purchase the jam jars and new lids for your project.
  • Follow the instructions closely and completely. If you're like me, you like to experiment by adding or omitting ingredients or decreasing the amount of fat and sugar in your nightly meal recipes. That is NOT a safe practice when you are jamming and canning. Use the recommended amount of sugar, even if it seems completely outrageous. Luckily, there is a low-sugar recipe for plum jam that is quite tasty. It's available in the Sure-Jell box.