Posted on August 19th, 2013
The sun is hot, but not heavy. I can feel my skin heating up, first warm to the touch, but then hot. Every bit of exposed skin is tingling, tightening. Soon I will burn. My face starts to sweat. I can feel it running down my neck, leaving trails in the dirt like an old map.
My hands are working furiously. Gently, each branch needs to be lifted, pinching between the thorns. The ripe berries hang, weighing down the branches. They stain my fingers. I pick as quickly as I can, it seems like they are ripening faster than I can pick. Soon the bucket is full. Heavy. Rich with possibility.
By the time I get home my heart is pounding. My hands are pink, covered in scratches, but I don’t care. I can still feel the sun on my shoulders. That thing is happening where I press my fingers on my chest and pale white hand prints are left, and then fade. I put my old white colander in the sink and carefully spill the berries out. They tumble and bounce, and I catch them with my left hand as they try to escape. I turn on the faucet, and gently run water over my harvest. The sink is shiny and a river of crimson runs down the drain. Evidence of my victory.
The fruit is heavy. It makes a satisfying plunking sound as I tumble the fruit into my heavy sauce pan. I click on the stove. Sugar. Lemon juice. Time. Soon I hear liquid sizzle in the bottom of the pan. I stir with my old wooden spoon, gently, trying not to spill any over the side. I stand at the stove, stirring, listening, watching the raspberries break apart and lose their shape.
Soon, the whole kitchen smells. Sweet. Hot. My hands keep moving as I lose myself in the motions. Around and around, and soon there is a sticky mass moving in the pan. The bubbles pop and splatter my arms. For a second it burns, but soon cools to a red sticky spot. Soon there are tiny spots all over my arms. The day is visible on my body. Grass stains on my knees, dirt and red juice everywhere. Lemon juice burns the tiny scrapes in my knuckles. The pot is steaming. My face is sweating again. But its only going to get hotter.
Back to the sink. I take the biggest pot I own and fill it with water. It seems like it takes forever, and I watch the water swirl around and eventually there is enough. I lug it over to the stove and turn the burner up as high as it will go. Soon the kitchen is full of steam and sweetness and heat, I carefully lower the empty jars and their parts into the boiling water.
The raspberries are unrecognizable, now a mass of hot, red, sticky, saucy goodness. I scrape the bottom of the pot and the spoon leaves a sizzling trail that closes in on itself. I start to fill the jars. I try to be careful but still I leave deep red polka dots across the counter. The jars are hot to the touch and the big boiling pot on the stove behind me is surging clouds of steam into the kitchen. Its a small room but feels even smaller than usual. One by one I fill the jars, carefully screwing the lids on and finally lowering them into the boiling water. The bubbles surge around them, and even though I clamp on the lid, steam still escapes as the lid clatters around. The water is powerful, surging, hot and dangerous, slowly turning my little jars of raspberry mush into shelf-stable memories of the day.
Ten minutes pass, and the timer beeps and scares me. I expect it, but the noise jerks me out of the hypnosis of my afternoon. Somehow it has gotten very late. It is dark out, but still so hot. I take the lid off the pot and a huge cloud of steam fills the kitchen. I pull the rack up and try like hell not to burn myself taking the jars out. I line them up like chessmen on a towel. I smile at the neat little row of perfect jars of homemade jam.
The kitchen is still hot, but I can feel the temperature of my skin changing. That shift that happens in the evening after a long, hot day in the sun. I feel a chill creeping up my arms, my skin still tight and red from the sun. I am smeared with dirt and fruit juice. I heave the big pot of water back over to the sink, and slowly pour out the contents. The last of the steam evaporates and I sit down, exhausted and happy. And then I hear it. Ping! The sound echoes through the kitchen, a tiny metallic snap. My first jar is done. I can feel a satisfied smile creep across my lips. Pop! Another one, then another, until finally I hear all my tiny jars shout from the other room.