October 03, 2011

Sticky Situations or Getting into a Jam.

To be "in a jam" suggests the viscous fate of a fly gummed up to the shanks in fruity ooze. "Jelled up" is a similar phrase for affairs or machines. Both bring to mind the sweet morass of the finished product, of fruit. Pulped and boiled and sweetened into a jam. But both in fact refer to the process rather than the product of jam­making; as the dictionary says, "to press or squeeze an object tightly between two converging surfaces," describing with prac­tical exactitude the plight of the young man playing footsie with the vicar's daughter only to see across the dinner table a delight­ed blush creep up the behemoth features of her huge mother adjacently seated.

The first of jams was the predicament of Paris, torn between prime beauties of his time, in his case no less than three converg­ing surfaces. Since the prize he awarded, the golden apples of the Hesperides, are modernly thought to have been Spain's southern oranges, little short of marmalade could be said to be written all over his face. He chose Helen, which began the Trojan War, which made mincemeat of him.

Few of us are likely to share so classic a conserve. Nor, in cinematic terms, is it our daily lot to wake up pinioned to the rails, an express train thundering closer every moment, Indians whooping in from left, the great dam breaking in the hills above right, a rattler playing the asp about our corded midriff. Our jams are less glorious, but in fact far stickier. They always get out of theirs, we seldom do. No deus ex machina descends to the aid of the hostess with eight expectant guests and a burnt bird-unless Heinz's Fifty-seven Varieties can be conceived as the pantheon; nor is there any way out for the person who sees his/or her upper set disappear down the aircraft toilet-stop the plane!

As we sometimes get into a jam, so often does the well­plucked plum. But too many were plucked in the Kaiser's War, when plum-and-apple jam was served as surely as howitzer shells to the very fed-up British Tommy. Use slightly underripe greengage plums if you can-called reine Claude after the queen of Francois I, during whose reign this variety was introduced into France from the eastern Mediterranean. Cut each plum in two, remove the stone, blanch for a short time (five to ten minutes), then drain. Add an equivalent amount of sugar to the plum halves. Cook this mixture very quickly, stirring constant­ly, since it has a rather pronounced tendency to stick.

No, ours are the situations without solu­tions, subtle preserves which in memory remain wincers for life. The results of compulsive lying, for instance; when to the boss a grandmother's funeral would be quite enough, an accepted formality; but of course this is not enough for the embroiderer whose many-forked tongue, like a maddened crochet-hook, must ex­patiate on the dear old lady's generosity, her lifelong devotion to wounded birds, the rack of fountain pens filled at the ready with double-cream milk, her last long illness, even the surgical boot she wore since a child- ''Three wars that boot saw, sir, the Boer conflict too!" It makes it that much more difficult meeting the man at the beach that afternoon.

Preserve the pear! Don't let them rot, or wasps'll get drunk on the rotting flesh, and you'll be in another kind of jam. For the most agreeable kind of jam, you should use smallish pears, while stilI underripe. Peel them, cut into four pieces and remove the remainder of the stalk and pips. You should have a basin already on hand half-filled with water, since the pear pieces should be placed in water immediately after peeling. The addition of a pinch of alum prevents oxidation which otherwise would tend to turn the pears a darkish hue. Drain off the pear sections and cook them gently, over a low flame, in a sugar syrup until the jelling stage is reached. As with all jams, remember to heat jars before fillling.
Then there is the truffle predica­ment. Arrived from the shop carefully packed in silk, the four mouth-watering beauties are des­ignated for delivery to a sick cousin. A covering letter says so. On the way there, caught in an endless traffic snarl, a finger creeps to the little box and peeps open the lid. Almost unconsciously a thumb joins the finger. And before one has realized it, the thing is done-the truffle absorbed! "Three will be enough," says finger to thumb, rearranging the remaining trinity. But neither counted on the truffle's mental makeup, a choco­late manufacturer master of the sub­tleties of aftertaste-and bang goes another.  Now two beauties primp from what suddenly becomes a decolletage of silk-and wasn't it Cousin Betsy-Maud who had gone on so at the immodest new topless trend? Save her blushes, says thumb to finger; and then there's one left, and one's absurd, so that goes too. And after all it only takes a minute to dash round the corner for a bunch of chrysanthemums. It takes a rather longer minute to stand in a sickroom already brimful of chrysanthemums, a funeral of a place with the things bursting from every conceivable vase, and to see the wan face wavering a smile: "At last, my truffles ... the one thing left worth living for." The postman always rings twice.

Cream-complexioned, ham-feeding peaches, called in Latin Persica, originated in Persia. Glamorize, then, the glutinous predicament on your stove as no ordinary jam but-Persian Conserve. This jam should be prepared in a very similar way to plum jam, though you may find it easier to pour boiling water over the peaches and let them stand a few minutes before cutting and discarding the stones. This makes them easier to peel. Cook the peach slices in water until tender (again a little alum should be added to prevent oxidation). Add an equivalent amount of sugar and cook on a gentle heat until the mixture thickens, stirring all the time while the sugar melts. Seal in ready-warmed jars.

What happens when you bring your dog, as it truly happened to me, to a house with a free-flying canary?  And the big dog sits there with its big mouth open, and the canary flies in? Naturally the dog closes the mouth.  As the jaws clamp to, every human jaw hangs open... would a light­ning offering of Dogochoc impel the brute to swallow first? Would the cry of "Rats!" provoke a backward-sucking bark?  Would the sharp-beaked Jonah inside flush the creature's uvula? A breath-held moment ... before the owner carefully stepped forward and prized open the quiet mouth, whereat the bird, none the worse, flew out.
Many are the kinds of galloping quagmire which lay in wait-confitures de luxe among countesses and dukes, homemade jams with the wrong neighbor, dreamy concoctions of secret assignations. But one of the simplest, though in memory often the worst, a life­long wincer, is the misfired joke. Some­thing about it has a hideous ring.

"Being in a jam" means being jammed or squeezed, as was the fate of these innocent, but too seductive apricots. Not being exactly sure of the subsequent fate of fruit in jams, I slipped along to the oldest jam-makers in the world, Fouquet, at 36 Rue Laffitte, Paris 9e, where fine jams have been made for the past 130 years. They told me that only very ripe apricots should be used. Cut the fruit in two and remove stones. Place fruit in an earthenware basin, alternating a layer of apricots with one of granulated sugar, and leave to soak for twenty-four hours; use one and a half pounds of sugar for two pounds of apricots. Cook the next day, but do not add any more sugar or water.

And here we have it, say on a morning in early October, the first smells of autumn sharpening the woodland paths. Your companion is a man of authority upon whose every word you must hang.
"Hmm," the great man briskly and leanly says, "there's a tang in the air."
Words upon which you delightedly hang too closely.
"Pardon?" you say, scanning the clouds, and with, yes, a ghost of a smile on the lips: "Some sort of Chinese Mes­serschmidt?"
"What do you mean, Chinese? I said nothing about China."
"Well, sir, it's just the word Tang, you know."
"Surely appropriate to the morning? It is October, you know."
"And-er-the air, aircraft and all that."
"There's an aircraft about? What's so extraordinary in that? The skies are full of them. Though I can hear none at the moment. Was it perhaps to the absence of an aircraft you referred?"
A long, lean pause. Then briskly: "Why?"
The memory's marrow curdles to recall how he stops nowtracks, turns on you and glares, his brisk blue eyes feathered like a lobster with tufts of sprouting brow.
"Why?" he repeats.
And the ground never opens up.


frenchtoast said...

I declare, Ms. Edna “in a jam”, has me in stitches in a big way!
In short – thanks.

Ms. Edna (squared) said...

Always happy to amuse…

Mona said...

I’m at the edge of my seat since I found out that you‘re in a jam. I’m holding my breath until I find out how you managed to get out of this sticky situation. Did you whistle in the dark? I will be on tenterhooks until I hear from you, or perhaps ignorance is bliss? Waiting with bated breaths (and with my knickers in a twist) until I hear.
Loved the post -

Ms. Edna (squared) said...

Dahhhling Mona.
Please, please do NOT fall of your seat and end up in a sticky situation just for me. And holding you breath may make you give up the ghost. Whilst whistling in the dark for water under the bridge is to flog a dead horse. And why I’m flattered about your concern you truly have over-egged the pudding. Ignorance is NOT bliss if it were so more people would be happy. No need to pull out all the stops, untie those knickers at once. Thanks for your loving concern-but it was just a storm in a teacup. Drenched in clich├ęs your loving friend Ms. Edna ;-) xoxo

Charles said...

Decorum ladies.
Remember you both will shortly become eligible to enter the AARP kingdom.

Ms. Edna (squared) said...

Your kingdom Charles -ours will be something else ;-)