I'd heard mention of the Jam Kitchen before. It was mythical, almost, brought up over a pot of homemade blackberry jam or a hot batch of tomato sauce with women gathered around the kitchen table. No one I'd spoken with had ever been there, but they all had a vision.
There were row upon row of solid cast iron burners, the rumors imagined; a stool and station for every girl; an old-fashioned, industrial line-up simultaneously beautiful and efficient.
When I arrived for the jam-making workshop at dusk last night, I finally saw the place with my own eyes. A woman stood, sorting cranberries and apples, lining up pots and spoons and a long row of bowls.
It was every bit as charming as they'd said it would be: white tin basins, wide blue floorboards, windows from stool to ceiling for sun-cooking preserves.
We sat down quickly and were put to work. Down went the apple corer, out popped eight thick slices and a cylindrical core, and the knife took the chopping from there. The cranberries we had to eye carefully, picking out bruises and wrinkles and a few rogue stems.
With the fruit ready, the woman in charge lit a wave of blue beneath our burners, and we added sugar and lemon juice, and began to stir. It all happened so quickly—the popping of berries and rolling foam, the thickening against the spoon and finally a falling sheet. We scraped the foam and set to jarring.
The jar lids were sterilized with brandy, she told us. The alcohol killed off any lingering trouble, without all that fuss about boiling. When we'd packed and sealed our eight ounce jars, she ran them through the dishwasher, just to be sure. Labeled and cooled, they looked more professional than any jars I'd ever managed at home: with solid white lids in place of gold ball screws and caps, and a well-printed label, I tucked them away to give as holiday gifts.
CRANBERRY APPLE JAM
recipe adapted from Mary Beers, Green Briar Jam Kitchen instructor
Makes 6, 8 ounce jars
Pick through 4 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen) removing any stems and debris. Wash cranberries and place in cook pan. Peel and chop 4-6 apples into small chunks. Add 4 cups apples, 4 cups sugar, and 1/4 cup lemon juice to pan.
Cook over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to a rolling boil. Caution: cranberries pop. Cook until thick and glossy, or until in the wake of the spoon as you stir you can see the bottom. Skim off any foam. Pour while hot into sterilized jars and seal.