Busyness: Cookery

On that terrible rainy weekend at the end of June, it was so cool out I decided to make strawberry jam.

I have fond memories of making jam with my mom and my grandmothers, though somehow my memory tends to omit the sheer godawful amount of time it takes to make old-fashioned jam (that is to say, no pectin). Because to get strawberries, sugar, and a splash of lemon juice to stop being chunky syrup and start being lovely spreadable jam involves a long time of slow boiling. And oh the steam from the boiling water to sterilize the jars! Good thing it was cool out.

While I was waiting for the jam to get to that magical point of doneness, I thought about the concept of done. When I first started cooking in earnest after heading off to university, I begged some favourite recipes from my grandmother – handwritten, and often with cryptic instructions like “boil until it looks right” or “bake until done.” And this drove me nuts. I had no idea what that meant. Ditto bread recipes, with their “knead till stretchy,” and of course jam recipes, with “slow boil” and “gelled” or “set.”

Of course it turns out that all of these instructions make perfect sense – with experience. After making bread a handful of times, suddenly I did know the point when the dough had been worked enough. You can feel it in your hands that it’s stretchy and springy and ready to rise. Same thing with the jam. After a couple of slogs, I could see that it was getting thicker and was gelling on the back of the spoon as I stirred.

And it occurred to me that it’s like anything as you gain expertise, that you get to the point of experience and you just know. So good logo designers know when they’ve got it right and can stop fiddling, and good website designers know when they’ve reached the best user experience.

Me? I doubt that I’ll get there – I’ll stick with jam instead.

jam station

“Strawberry Jam” by Michelle Shocked

Old fashioned strawberry jam

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