It's late. Except for the soft hum of the refrigerator, the house is silent. Everyone else, even our grey tabby sprawled across the sofa, is asleep. I stand under the single CFL light above the range. My hand moves methodically, carving quickly disappearing circles in the molten mass of fruit and sugar. My brain meanders from the newsletter I need to write to the Laura Ingalls Wilder book I read last time I made jam and then to the pumpkin seedlings stretching across our sidewalk strip. Finally, it is blissfully blank, taking in only the hypnotic dance of strawberries roiling over a hot stove.
I dip in an ice cold spoon. The jam has set - a royal red gel. Cradling the hot jars with a towel, I slowly ladle in the sugared mixture. Occasionally, scarlet dribbles skip over the edge and down the jar. Once they are full and the lids on, I tuck the jars into the big black canning pot where they bubble merrily for ten minutes.
Sitting at the kitchen table, the house empty and smelling of sugar and summer, I lick the remaining jam off of my wooden spoon, carefully scraping the edges of the nearly empty saucepan. 12:30 is too late to be up, let alone eating jam. As I listen to the jars jostling each other and think of the day to come, though, it seems the right thing to be doing.
After they've had their bath, I pull the jars out, one by one, and inspect them. They glow deep red like polished jewels. I am not quite ready to go to bed, to let go of the stillness and silence of strawberries, sugar and a boiling pot. I sit back down at the table and stare into the dark night. Branches scratch across the window in a May gust. The ancient gleam of the moon seeps in past the shades. One by one, the lid on each jar pops reassuringly, promising May sunshine in January. Once the last pop echoes through the kitchen, I reluctantly fill the saucepan with water and turn off the stove light.
Unlike pickles or chutney, homemade jam can be enjoyed the next morning when boys wake up too early. When chores and worries encroach. When the peace of making jam is but a memory, I can still savor it, slathered across my toast.