By: Blonde Two
We humans have been pickling and preserving our harvests for over 4,000 years now. Great women (and probably some chaps) through the centuries have enjoyed the satisfaction of making jam, preserving tomatoes and fermenting cabbage. Cleopatra swore pickles made her beautiful, Christina Columbus knew they prevented scurvy on long voyages, and Queen Elizabeth I enjoyed regular pickle snacks. Pickling (in brine or vinegar) isn’t the only way to preserve fruit and vegetables. This year, after some outdoor lockdown gardening fun, I’ve been busy fermenting my own sauerkraut (delicious but occasionally mouldy), making chutney (the rhubarb one wasn’t my favourite) and learning how to make jam.
To my mind the whole thing has proved how the (often maligned) digital world can support traditional and eco-friendly skills. I’ve read countless online recipes and sought ‘what on earth is this fruit’ advice from social media contacts. Granny probably still knows best when it comes to making jam but if you don’t have a granny, there are lots of people out there willing to help and spread the canning (still to learn this one) love. I would liked by the way to have been able to show my Granny my efforts. She would have been pleased but the Women’s Institute in her would definitely have demanded more wrinkle on my jelly.
The best types of learning
If learning is good for us (witness the Five Ways to Wellbeing) then learning something that takes you outside (growing and picking our harvest), connects us to other people (experimenting and sharing) and helps us to appreciate where our food comes from must surely be even better. Pickling, preserving and jam-making also bring the satisfaction of cutting out the supermarket middle giants and avoiding extraneous packaging.
Get outside with jam
Preserving gives us all kind of fantastic excuses to get outside. When we open our eyes we see harvest possibilities everywhere. There are blackberries to be picked, apples to be scrumped and sloes to scavenged. Collecting or foraging food can turn an ordinary walk into an adventure and take us places we wouldn’t usually go (with permissions of course). A quest for nature’s bounty can also help us form our own maps of our outdoor spaces. For example I have a ‘secret fruits’ map of Dartmoor National Park. It exists only in my head and will be passed down only to those closest to me.
Jam sandwiches for walking
Not only this but there are those who suggest a jam sandwich is the perfect food for outdoor activity. With both slow and quick release carbohydrates and the ability to taste good after a night squashed into a walking boot (yes I have tried), a jam sandwich has to be the best old fashioned alternative to all those processed modern gels, juices and energy bars. Of course the outdoor value of your jam or cheese and pickle sandwich increases many times if you are lucky enough to live with your very own expert sourdough baker. Sourdough bread is denser, tastier and far more robust than the impregnated sliced mush the supermarkets sell in plastic bags (sorry but I am now a confirmed bread snob).
It is heartening to hear, in this time of bad business news, that sales of preserving and brewing equipment are doing well. As modern habits become more tricky to manage we appear to be resorting to the more simple and old fashioned. In many ways this is nice (a word chosen here deliberately for its simplicity). Sandwiches, like life, can become over complicated. It is entirely possible that the jam sandwich has become the significant metaphor of our times.