Sweeter than Strawberry Jam
Some people start to frenetically clean their house, scrubbing grout on their hands and knees with an old toothbrush, and making decisions like today is the day that I’m going to peel the gray fur out from underneath my stove. Other people chew carrot sticks until their fingertips are stained and even their eyeballs have that watery and vaguely liver diseased look. I quit smoking four (4) weeks ago, and as of yet I have had neither the compulsion to clean or even a passing interest in carrot sticks. What I have been doing, however, is canning.
Every time that a friend excuses him or herself to hack a quick butt on the deck, tendrils of smoke slipping in through the screen door and hanging heavily in the air of my kitchen, the pantry swells by another 5 jars. Watching Becky and Steve puff away on Coronation Street led to 14 jars of salsa, and a short stop at the pub one Friday night resulted in 6 quarts of spicy pepperonata from a bushel of peppers. Yes, I have become the kind of person who buys produce by the bushel.
Spicy harissa pickled carrots are sandwiched between jalapeno cucumber pickles, garlic dills, sour dills, pickled beans, pickled radish and tequila poached onions. Blackberry balsamic vinegar is currently holding court alone until I can tell you all about the vodka infusions we’ve been playing around with, because let me tell you, when you quit smoking? Vodka is a friend. Lavender and honey canned peaches sit beside cinnamon spiced peaches and rummy plums at the front of the fruit shelf, while fig and rose jam nudges up against plum jam, tomato basil jam, maple onion “jam”, apple butter (it could be that we picked 139 pounds of apples last weekend), and my new Most Favorite In The World recipe for strawberry jam.
You know how there are some people who can just pick up smoking casually for a few months and then toss the habit aside when the weather gets cold? That wasn’t me. I was the other kind of smoker; the one who really, really liked smoking. I loved the first cigarette on a winter’s morning when it went down cold and harsh. I loved my precious daily “last smoke” on a balmy summer’s night, lounging in the backyard as the world went still. For thirty three days, I have been gnawing angrily on pen tops, glowering at packs of uniformed teens sharing a butt in the school parking lot, and eating everything within striking distance, whether it is digestible or not. For thirty three days, I have amassed such a vast compilation of pickles and preserves in a crawlspace that spans the width of our house, we are running out of space.
This is a problem, because a month into this whole non-smoking business, and I would still claw my way out of a coffin if I knew there was a lit cigarette waiting for me on the other side.
If you know somebody who is trying to quit right now (even if they are on Failed Attempt # 28572), just give them a hug and then back away quickly before they bristle and bite. You can be supportive, but for god’s sake, give them space because the one guarantee is that the next few weeks will not be easy for anybody. Oh, and most importantly, if you have successfully quit smoking within the last 25 years, congratulations! That is an excellent achievement of which you should be proud!!! Now shut the hell up. The only thing more irritating than a smug non-smoker is a smug EX-smoker. Your nicotine craving buddy who is doubled over with nausea really doesn’t want to hear about how chewing on cocktail straws really worked for you, or how it was a cake walk after day three. Tell her that she’s doing well, tell her that you admire her effort if you must, but please, for the love of bacon, leave it at that.
Throughout this process, Mike has been a rock (although pillow, battering ram and flashing target have also been accurate at times). He never pressured me to quit, but I know that he’s proud of me and that means a lot to me in my brief moments of sanity when I’m not standing listlessly in the living room, staring at the floor for 45 minutes, or trying not to leap over a rack of knit tops and throttle the CSR who had the balls to ask me if I was really, really sure that I didn’t need help finding anything in my size. Mike held my hand as I sobbed deliriously on the couch, he slowly backed away without comment when I accidentally threatened him whilst brandishing a carving knife (yes, it happened, but I swear it wasn’t as bad as it sounds), and he has written me thirty three Daily Affirmations that have kept me going each morning, a constant reminder that this too shall pass.
That’s my husband. Even when I am so unbearable that being in my own skin gives me a headache, he’ll just duck and weave, then send me an email to say that he thinks I’m awesome.
Most of the canning that I’ve done this year has either been through a depressed fugue or a frenetically urgent need for distraction. This recipe, however, was focused and made with love for a man who really is just sweeter than strawberry jam. Strawberries are his favorite fruit and I had to add my own little bit of zing with a smattering of fresh thyme and a drizzle of balsamic. Now, we have five pints of summer to spread on toast through the winter as we look back and laugh at this whole tedious and frustrating non-smoking escapade. At least, I hope we’ll laugh. At this rate, even a Canadian winter may not be long enough to soften my anxiety.
Strawberry Thyme Jam
Makes 5 pints
- 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) strawberries
- 8 cups granulated sugar *
- small handful fresh thyme (1/4 cup minced)
- 2 packages light fruit pectin crystals
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 tsp butter
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper