There are some days when one should probably either stick to reading and writing or simply stay in bed. If astrology were remotely helpful one might be able to ascertain in advance whether or not the stars are aligned propitiously, and steer well clear of cellars and kitchens when they aren’t. Strange things happen in kitchens when the stars aren’t favourable, and they definitely weren’t favourable yesterday.
Last year we spent the equivalent week of July enjoying the civilisation of Brittany. I had picked half the saskatoon crop in our allotment fruit cage before we left and had made sure that the cage was bird-proof. But fruit cages tend not to be amenable to wasp-proofing and by the time we got back at the end of the week it seemed that most of the wasps in North Yorkshire had arrived, taken up residence among the saskatoons, and were intent on making it abundantly clear that as far as they were concerned possession is ten-tenths of the law. That was the end of the harvest, at least as far as we, if not the wasps, were concerned. So this year we tried to pre-empt the wasps by picking all the berries before the wasps could take over. Having harvested several pounds, and not having much spare freezer space, I needed to do something with them fairly quickly. The drought in May resulted in the berries being smaller than usual, which meant that any jam would be likely to be rather too pippy, so the obvious answer was to turn the berries into saskatoon jelly, which I have done very successfully in the past.
Before doing anything else I needed to collect enough jam bottles and sterilise them before fulfilling them. I had been intending for some time to retrieve some of the pre-2008 bottles of jam and/or chutney from our ‘cellar’ and recycle the bottles; the assumption being that if we hadn’t eaten the jam by now we weren’t ever going to. The ‘cellar’ is actually the set of stairs that used to go down to the mid-nineteenth century coal cellar, bricked across halfway down. It houses a couple of racks of wine and is shelved on one side, with the shelves being loaded with bottles of jam and chutney of varied vintages. One of the bottles I intended to recycle slipped off the shelf and landed on the brick floor, surprisingly intact. On its way to the floor it had, however, very neatly executed one of the bottles of racked wine, slicing its top off very cleanly at the neck and leaving it to vent its lifeblood all over the cellar floor. I should have realised at that point that the stars were not well aligned for jelly-making.
Saskatoon jam is easy: the same quantity of jam sugar as fruit, the juice of a lemon and a cup of water. The jelly is less straightforward as the strained juice is measured in cups, not pounds, and American cups, predictably enough, aren’t the same as British ones. That matters because all the Saskatoon recipes I’ve ever come across emanate from North America, where the berries originate. Whether I got the carefully calculated proportions of juice to sugar wrong, whether I took too long to stir the warmed sugar into the juice, whether I allowed it to spend too long on the roiling boil at the end of the cooking process, or whether it was simply a malign alignment of the stars, the result was startling. I didn’t need to use the saucer I had put in the freezer to establish whether it was going to set, it started to cling very lovingly to the spoon I was using to move the foam to the sides. What I ended up with is a world-beating, once in a lifetime, Saskatoon glue.
Brilliant, deep purple jewel-like colour; distinctive Saskatoon taste, if a little sweeter than usual; it is only the texture that is a bit problematic. It isn’t too difficult to get a jam spoon into it, but take the spoon out again and the jam in the jar refuses to be separated from the spoonful you were hoping to manoeuver onto your toast – the glue just stretches, seemingly limitlessly. When you finally manage to spread some of it on your toast – and hot toast would be a lot better than cold toast – you are left with what looks like a brilliantly coloured enamel smoothly coating the bowl of your spoon. There has to be some commercial potential in saskatoon glue to help shore-up our desperately ailing post-Brexit economy. It may perhaps be a bit messy as a non-toxic glue to use for handicrafts in nurseries; however colourful it is, it wouldn’t enhance hairstyles and it might encourage a taste for glue among the children. It probably isn’t durably waterproof, and would be likely to attract ants if it were to be used in shoe repairs. But the stars couldn’t, surely, have been so badly aligned that there are no commercial possibilities whatever for Saskatoon glue. After all, Kellogg invented corn flakes entirely by accident in a kitchen, and look where that went.