June in a jar

12 June 1933

I don’t eat an awful lot of jam, and there are certain batches that I make purely to appease the children: blackcurrant, for example. Or a rare jar made of the tiny bilberries that stain fingers purple and teeth a pleasingly gruesome shade of grey. Mostly, though, jam is too sweet for me, and I reach past it for the marmite.

There are, however, a handful of jams that I make year in, year out, and green gooseberry and elderflower is one of them. At this time of year, when the pollen is so high that a casual passing sniff leaves yellow smears on the tip of your nose, there’s nothing for it but to give in to the heat of the kitchen on a sunny Sunday and boil up a batch of this sugary elixir. I only made a small batch – six jars, plus the inevitable part-filled jar to be eaten the next day at tea – but that’s enough. I just need to know that, tucked away on the larder shelves, is an olfactory snapshot of early June in the garden. The sort of June that 1933 is throwing our way: sunny and warm and high with promise and scent. Then, one grey and sulky January morning, I’ll open up the first. Cold from the stone shelves, it’ll barely smell at all, but smeared on a buttery crumpet the sun will begin to rise again. One bite of the sweet-tart gooseberries, the elderflower hanging mysteriously around it, will be enough. I’ll be able to shut my eyes and imagine that it’s June.

There are two other ardent fans in this house. Fliss and Ilse both love this jam almost as much as I, and surely eat far more of it. By way of encouragement, they rashly offered to pick the gooseberries for me. The recipe only calls for a couple of pounds, but these first green gooseberries are so tiny, and my request that they thin the crop so specific, that they quickly came to me with their regrets. Fliss weighed their first scant attempt to both their great dismay, but off they traipsed for more. Really, that’s how good this jam is. In the end, they spent so much time walking up from the fruit plot at the far end of the garden that I took the scales to them, and, eventually, they reappeared, triumphant. A trip out for ices was in order, and Fliss sat quite happily under the apple tree, snipping the tops and tails off with a pair of scissors, while Ilse ran around gathering the frothiest, most exuberant blooms.

Their help made this one of the quickest batches of jam I’ve ever made: so much so that I’m tempted to make another lot next Sunday. But I don’t think I’ll find anyone to thin the gooseberries again. That is, not until another winter has reminded them of what a treat this is. I couldn’t help but notice, though, on my watering-can rounds of the garden, that the scented roses are about to bloom. Paired with the end of the rhubarb, we might soon have another taste of June stored away in the larder. A little posher, perhaps, as all things rose-scented tend to be, but it’ll all still just come from our garden.


4 thoughts on “June in a jar”

  1. I can almost taste the jam from your description. I’m from Northern California where we don’t tend to grow gooseberries, rhubarb, or elderflower. Roses, however, are prolific in my garden, although they end up in vases rather than the jam jar. I do buy elderflower cordial to use in cooking and cocktails and would one day like to make my own!

    1. Oh, you must. I meant to make some on Saturday but the sun came out and – I kid you not – my area of York ran out of lemons. I can only imagine how many G&Ts were quaffed that afternoon! I bet you get some pretty amazing other fruit – lemons! – and oranges, for example. Forgive my ignorance – what else grows well in California? Lots, I imagine. Do you ever make marmalade? And a garden full of roses sounds wonderful. x

      1. Yes, lots of citrus. I have two Meyer lemon bushes and a blood orange bush. Meyer lemons are thin skinned with a lovely perfum and taste. I actually have never canned any food as I’m rather nervous of the process. I do love a Saville orange marmalade on buttered toast though. I also have peach, Fuji apple, and cherry trees. (I have to admit my fruit haul is usually small as I’m not good about netting the trees.) I also grow strawberries and thornless raspberries and blackberries. Herbs grow like weeds. Reading back over my comment, it sounds a lot grander and more prolific than it is!

      2. It all sounds wonderful! I’d love to be able to grow citrus and peaches, but I’d need a proper greenhouse. Although I do have a tiny lemon ‘tree’ on a sunny windowsill that my dad started from a pip… And I share your love of marmalade. I even get a jar in my stocking every Christmas. X

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