The Cotton-Woolly Method of Making Jam

Weekend Meditation

If you would have stopped by my home on Friday morning at about 10:30 am, you would have found me still in my robe, standing over a pot of hot, bubbling plums with a tiny spoon in my hand and a crooked half-smile on my face. The reasons for this, for all of this, comes down to two things: ripeness and painkillers. Or the unfortunate, yet fortunate, timing of both. Let me explain.

As mentioned in my Weekend Meditation last week, I've been dealing with a discombobulating and painful dental situation, a nasty combination of a cracked tooth, exposed nerve and a kindly dentist who is willing to work with my lack of insurance but who was out of town for a week. Enter handfuls of aspirin followed by (eureka!) the discovery of a bottle of leftover Vicodin from my last dental 'situation.' Soon pain was pushed into the background and a somewhat cotton-woolly reality took its place.

Not an ideal situation, but manageable. Until a bag of plums sitting on my counter started smelling very sweet, an indicator that they were dead ripe, if not starting to rot. I needed to deal with them immediately and I so conceived of a plan, a plan born of desperation and cotton-woolly thinking. I would just cut up the plums, add some sugar and put them in the refrigerator for a few days. This is based on the tried and true 3-Day Apricot Jam method and it worked beautifully for apricots, so I assumed the plums would be fine, too.

And they were. They macerated in the sugar in the refrigerator for a while, then I cooked them down a bit, let them cool, and popped them back into the refrigerator. A few days later, I returned them to the stove and cooked them down some more. I was on the other side of my dental emergency by then and recovering quite nicely. The Vicodin had been replaced with some strong aspirin and the fog was clearing. I was beginning to find my bearings again, on the road to Easy Street. Until I noticed some strange, hard lumpy things in my jam. What? A closer look revealed that they were ... plum pits! Slowly my memory reached back into the past and I began to recall my cotton-woolly strategies.

In my vicodin haze, I had decided to leave the pits in the plums. I had remembered being told at some point that the pits would add more flavor and pectin, and to be honest, I didn't trust myself with a knife at that point. So I had just sliced the plums in half and tossed them with the sugar. And promptly forgot about it.

So on Friday morning, as I stood over my stove, I had a really sweet moment as I slowly fished plum pits out of my jam. I was struck by the fact that I could easily be annoyed with my cotton-woolly self for not thinking things all the way through and thus creating the slow moving, nit-picky task in front of me. But the truth is, my cotton-woolly self did the best it could given the circumstances of the time, and doing the best one can is always good enough. Besides, fishing out plum pits is just the kind of slow, meditative activity I really enjoy doing on a foggy morning. It may have been more 'efficient' to have counted the plums so I knew how many to fish out later (although counting plums would have been next to impossible back then.) Or perhaps I could have put them into a little mesh bag, or any number of ways to avoid this moment. But this moment was sweet and perfect, and the last thing in the world I wanted was to avoid it.

So this is the Cotton-Woolly Method of jam-making, and life-living, too. Just do the best you can, respond appropriately to the causes and conditions of the present circumstances, and deal with the consequences with patience and steadfastness and most of all, kindness. Do all of this and your story just may end like mine did, wrapped up in an old flannel robe, standing over the stove with spoon, a plateful of plum pits, and a contented, crooked smile.

May all your stories of pain, discombobulation, and confusion end as happily as mine did.

Related: Weekend Meditation: Teaching Each Other

(Image: Dana Velden)