Saturday, July 9, 2011

Deconstruction: Blackberry Jam and Human Nature

Human nature is not only about life cycles and our ability to deconstruct and reemerge as different yet better people, it's about tasting the sweet joys life has to offer during that inevitable deconstruction process. We all fall apart in some way or another and in life not a soul emerges unscathed. We all possess life-changing scars, whether we were the cause of said scars or merely the recipients. I don't see my scars as negative life-stifling events, but as proof of my existence, proof that I have lived through many things and lived to tell the tale. I have completely fallen apart at times and have reemerged, not unlike the mythical creature the Phoenix. We as human beings have this wonderful ability to recreate ourselves, to learn from the hazards of life, to become something drastically different and just as wonderful as that beautiful, perfect, innocent creature brought into this world by people with good intentions.

The jam making process is similar to humanity's ability to completely deconstruct and fully reemerge as something drastically different yet extremely desirable. Life is a process and it's the end product that truly shows our growth and how these changes can actually sweeten our lives.

The first step in making jam is fruit selection. I prefer berry jams to all others so of course I chose blackberries. It helps that during the spring and summer months I have a seemingly endless supply in my yard as well as down by the river banks. The fruit you choose should be extremely ripe, maybe a little beyond ripe. The more life the fruit has experienced the better tasting the jam, the more character it will have.

Blackberries begin their lives as these beautiful little berries (although technically they are not really berries but seeds) especially if given the proper amount of TLC by their keepers or by mother nature. As they grow they become ripe and desirable and will one day be picked and devoured by some lucky creature, whether it be man, bird or pest. The sight of hundreds of fully-ripened blackberries is aesthetically pleasing to me, whether they are domesticated or wild like the ones I prefer. The wilder the berry, the sweeter the jam I think.

The second step is to mush the berries beyond recognition, save for the seeds that remain true to form. Like humans when we fully deconstruct there is always something within us that can be recognized at least by our own self. We may be unrecognizable to the naked eye of others but deep within ourselves we know who we truly are.

The third step is the addition of sugar and pectin. These additions not only add sweetness and structure to the tart, delicious berry mush, but it also provides security and safety. The large amount of sugar added to the mush actually keeps life-threatening bacteria away, preserving the jam for later use if shelf-stored. Upon deconstruction and reemergence as humans, we tend to add extra securities in our lives as well to protect ourselves from recreating the situations that drove us to our downfall.

The last and final step in making jam involves heat and preservation. All ingredients are heated to the point of complete incorporation and they become one whole new creation. They can no longer be recognized as blackberries (save for the seeds) or sugar or pectin. It has become something completely new and different and maybe even better than each ingredient on its own. We all start life as optimistic, happy-go-lucky children and as we grow we experience life and it changes us. If we are lucky we get through life only slightly scathed, but many of us deconstruct to the point of being distorted. This my friend is not a bad thing. Great is the man who is willing to change and grow. A jam may no longer have the visual aspects of its original fruit but the taste is truly altered, if not better, due to the additional ingredients and its capability to deconstruct and its willingness to start life anew.

Blackberry Jam Recipe:

*1 quart crushed blackberries
*6 1/2 cups sugar
*1 pouch liquid pectin

Step 1: Combine blackberries and sugar in a large sauce pot
Step 2: Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves
Step 3: Stir in pectin
Step 4: Return to a rolling boil
Step 5: Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly
Step 6: Remove from heat
Step 7: Skim foam if necessary
Step 8: Ladle hot jam into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace
Step 9: Adjust 2-piece sterilized caps
Step 10: Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner