With the Sun pouring into the kitchen and some agreeable tunes on the radio, we removed the stones from a kilo of dates. Having only just escaped their bergamot bath, we plunged them back in again and turned up the heat.
I noticed that Adam had taken on a forlorn countenance as he stared into the cauldron. ‘I’m troubled by the woodiness that we encountered with the last batch of this particular preserve, but what is to be done?’ His worry was not without validity, for the last batch of date jam was indeed a little woody upon the tongue.
At this moment I poured us both some coffee which we downed, the caffeine jolted our minds and led Adam to pronounce, ‘Why don’t we blend them?’ At this I immediately took up the hand mixer, ‘What a splendid idea indeed!’ I exclaimed as our friends, who were once said to be coarse, took on a smoother aspect. The cogs had not stopped turning quite yet, ‘Adam, throw me a lemon,’ I said with an air of certainty that was subsequently failed by my poor hand-eye coordination, as I scrambled to the floor to grab the yellow thing I had failed to catch.
After this debacle I squeezed some lemon juice into the pan, ‘the woodiness shall be further countered and indeed lifted by the sharp contrast,’ I vowed. A quick taste had affirmed my citrus thought, and we managed to fill fourteen jars of the stuff, our biggest yield to date. A sense of accomplishment stuck to the atmosphere like jam to a spoon, we celebrated with cheese sandwiches and fennel tea.
I arrived on monday to a bowl of Earl Grey housing a flock of drowned dates. This was tomorrow’s jam, I was informed. I went to check out the new pad, a converted barn of wood and white, dimmer switches and windows that open in two different ways.
That evening we made date and Earl Grey Jam. It had something of a chocolatey substance to it, and the Earl Grey reminded me of a rich tea biscuit dipped in tea.
The following day we made two jams at the same time – no mean feat – apple and lemongrass, and pear and ginger.
As we jammed we noticed the snow had once again begun to fall and with each snowflake our sense of anxiety deepened. If we get snowed in on an isolated farm then we can’t venture out for supplies. That was the big task for tomorrow.
By evening the land was caked.
Thankfully Chris had made a gourmet meal: finger of fish and salt and pepper chip a la pea.
The next morning the snow was still falling. The flakes were smaller, but there were more of them – a frozen drizzle. But we had no choice, we needed fruit. We clambered up the hill to my car, which looked like a marshmallow had taken a crap on it.
I dug through the snow to find the key. This was probably the closest thing to be inside an igloo, I thought. The engine started first time (such is the brawn of my mighty Metro), but we couldn’t pry the thing out from the snow and into the road. What we had come across was one of the chief ‘dilemmas of man’, namely A Stuck Car.
After much pushing and wheel-spinning we managed to rock the beast from it’s hole in the layby and we are away. England’s south west today is a Special’s album of white sky and snow, black road and tree.
Finally we made it to Axminster, and got the fruit – just a couple of boring tools doing what they do.
The snow had given up its onslaught on the land, for now. And with this break, we took up our spoons, raised them to the heavens and let out a mighty roar – jeeeeeeaaaaaaaam!! – before carefully beginning to slice the pears. And with those pears we made two jams – pear and ginger, and pear, chocolate and thyme.
Oh, to be back at the farm! To dine on oddly shaped potatoes in the evening , and awake the following morning to the bleating of sheep. Quite a strange thing actually, sticking on Radio 4 on my first night here, I happened upon a programme about a man who stays at a cottage and spends his days making jam. ‘How peculiar indeed,’ I thought, ‘that this very fellow’s doings seem to run parallel with my own current situation.’ I took this to be a sign and immediately took up my jam spoon.
However, after doing a preliminary sweep of my immediate vicinity, I must confess that my heart did sink for there was no fruit to be found. ‘What is to be done?’ I thought as I stood there in the kitchen awkwardly grasping my jam spoon. My question was answered soon enough when I happened to glance upon a pack of dates, those rich little morsels that find themselves alone in the month of January, their glory faded away along with the last days of the Christmas period.
I sipped some tea as I pondered what to do with my new friends and their potential to be preserved in a jar. Just like an energy saving light bulb floating over my head, slowly getting brighter, it came to me – did I not spend my Christmas stuffing a goose with dates that I had soaked in Earl Grey tea? If I had done it once before then surely that makes it valid, so without further ado, I plunged those dates into a hot spa of bergamot and looked to the following day, when they would be imbued with all the flavour of afternoon tea, and my fellow jam maker would join me to preserve these bad boys.