I have always had a thing for glass. Maybe I was a ship in a bottle in a past life. As kids my brothers and I hunted and pecked for sea glass on the Cape – brown like old root beer, soft-edged green, aqua dulled by the salt, and the rare and most-coveted cobalt. We had unwritten rules about chucking pieces back if they weren’t “ready” – you’d send them back into the cold waves and hope they turned up again to greet you with softer sides, no points.
I liked this part of looking – the idea that you could have a brief interaction with a special object that was itself a story – how had it found its way into the water? Who had tossed it? From a boat? From land? How did it break? Who had held it last?
I like this part of canning, too. I use berries planted by farmers, grown and tended by someone other than myself. Sometimes I buy the fruit at the farmer’s market, if it’s not in my CSA share. Most of the time, we’ll go berry-picking as a family. Last summer, when Will was three, I took him to a different local farm each week. Hand in hand we walked the fields, in between berry bushes or plants, eating and talking and examining bugs and getting scratched by thorns and feeding each other too many berries to count. I might have made the outing too long. Part of this was because it is free labor and I need to stock up on berries, freeze them in-season for more jams or cooking in the off-season. But the real reason we’d skip his nap or have berries for lunch was that is was pure, unfettered heaven. Dew on the scratchy grass, toddler hand, sunlight in his white hair, his flushed cheeks, his small fingers feeding me, his face spread with berry mush and laughter as he understood where these delightful foods come from. I try to preserve those days to relive during darker ones, like the fall and winter from hell this past year. When I smell the triple berry jam bubbling now, I can taste those days that won’t ever be again.
My grandmother likes to say that canning is one part past and one part future. I agree, but there’s a middle part she left out: right now. I make the berries into jam or syrup or sauce the way Grandma Bev taught me and preserve it in glass where it sits on my old wire shelf (like this one) until I sell it or give it or feed it to my children or consume it myself on a gray spring day when everything needs brightening with homemade jam.
I write this from Martha’s Vineyard, and island off the coast of Massachusetts. With so many miles of coastline, my kids and I will spend the afternoon on the off-season beach, looking, toes in the cold sand, in the hopes we can find cobalt sea glass to hold and to share, to save in a jar, or throw back and keep only in our memories.