I love to can jars of jam, with the challenge set several years ago of getting through the school year and all of the PB&J sandwiches without having to purchase any. Last season I exceeded my goal by canning over 200 jars, turning the challenge into a loving obsession. I designed special labels for each of the dozen or so varieties, and arranged them in tidy rows, prominently displayed in the breakfront of my dining room. Even my mother’s china had to move over as I shuffled things around to make room for the jam. I couldn’t bear to relegate the beautifully labeled, magnificently colored darlings to a dark cabinet in the basement.
The satisfaction I get from canning is quite simple: I like to have something to show for my day—a visual marker of my industry and creativity. I love my husband and kids, I love that I can run errands and shop and cook to make their lives easier, I love the pleasures of a clean house and of folded clothes, and I love it when my jam cabinet is full. I walk past the breakfront and gaze happily at the visual reminder that I’ve created something beautiful and delicious which, unlike the clean house and folded clothes, will last throughout the year.
The breakfront and I have a long history. This piece stood on top of the lime-green carpet in my family’s den for over 30 years. Back in the day, when we had to walk across the room to change the channel, I remember my dad drilling a hole in the back (you can barely see it just above the jam jars) creating one of the first entertainment centers. Our black and white television fit in the middle and the cord went out the back. And when I was three or four and had just learned to write my name, I took a ball point pen and wrote on my new doll’s forehead, scribbled on our new vinyl covered couch, and very proudly gouged my name into the side of this breakfront.
Today I pitted 14.5 pounds of sour cherries that will wait patiently in my freezer, joining the blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and plums, until August when I’ll get out my giant bowls and canning pot, and spend a wonderful couple of steamy days in my kitchen canning jam for next year. And then I will place them very carefully into the breakfront, the one piece of furniture that has my name on it.