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Jam Goo and Garden Dirt

photo: the berry farm

Berry farm owned by Parisians in Burgundy.

Paris Life - No. 14

by Laurel Avery

Paris:- Sunday, 31. August:- Like something akin to the swallows returning to Capistrano, I have now joined millions of Parisians during the 'rentrée,' the annual return from the August holidays that signals the end of summer.

Paris in August is blissfully quiet, and when I returned at mid-month from my sojourn in the U.S. I was pleased to have the streets of the city practically to myself for a few days.

And while half of my usual cafés were closed, the ones which remained open were happy to have my business. I could always get a seat on the Métro, and my local boulangerie did not, asposter: some kind of fruit usual, run out of my favorite 'baguette au pavot' before I could get myself out of bed in time to purchase it.

As I had returned to France in mid-August I felt that I had a little time left before I was expected to produce any actual work, all French being excused from anything having to do with work before August is over.

Some kind of fruit, maybe for jam.

Had the New York blackout happened in Paris in August we would still be in the dark, with all the EDF employees busy sunning themselves on the Côte d'Azur. So I abandoned my few fellow Parisians and escaped to the countryside for a few days.

Parisians are an odd lot. They are the essence of sophistication and haute couture, but most of them will insist that their real home is in some remote village in France. When they return there for their annual holiday you would never know that hidden in their closet are a dozen pairs of Manolo Blahniks perfectly matched to their Prada outfits. In August ratty jeans become the required item of clothing, and they wear them proudly while toiling in their country gardens.'

I was lucky enough to be able to join some of these Parisians over the past week, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. One of the highlights was making 'sureau,' a jam made from elderberries.

I had never had this jam in the U.S. and found it to be one of my favorites. Since the sureau were ripe we went out into the garden and harvested the berries.

I had never made jam before, and discovered it was an involved process. The berries must be steamed in a huge potposter: some other kind that has a rubber hose sticking out of its bottom, through which the juice flows as it is extracted from the fruit. After collecting a few litres of this juice it has to be mixed with sugar and pectin in a huge copper pot and brought to boil.

Some other kind of fruit, also maybe for jam.

Then the liquid gets ladled into individual jars, where one hopes it thickens into jam. Unfortunately, after hours of work and being covered with gobs of sticky purple goo, the jam was still too liquid.

So we unscrewed all the jars, dumped the entirety of the liquid back into the pot, boiled it once more and added more pectin. After filling the jars once more we put them in the refrigerator and hoped they would set into jam over the next few days. If they don't, I really don't want to know.

In Burgundy the grape harvest began about a month early, due to the excessive heat and drought. We continuallyposter: berry bush, chicken got stuck driving behind a few of the mechanical grape harvesters on the road, but it was not terribly annoying due to the thought that they were harvesting the grapes that would end up in a couple of years on my dinner table.

And from what I've heard, 2003 should be an exceptionally good vintage. I did feel concern for those people who were harvesting by hand, however, as it was still more than a little hot. Being out in the scorching sun all day hauling grapes on your back has got to be difficult.

Genuine bush, possibly with real berries, and some sort of chicken.

So now I am back in Paris, and my street is once again filled with cars and noise and dog droppings, signaling that the summer is over and all good Parisians have returned to work.

But having had a month-long holiday, I am hopeful that when I drop into the France Télécom office to try to straighten out yet another mistake on their part, at least I will be greeted by someone who is happy, relaxed, and who perhaps still has just a little French country garden dirt under their fingernails.

Text, photos Laurel Avery © 2003
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