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Autumn is officially here. And with it promises of at last harvesting the grapes that have been climbing up the side of our balcony. Bella asks almost every day – when will we pick the grapes? Last night in an energetic moment as an early dinner was winding to a close I suggested this was the time.

I’d love to see a cooking show in a real family setting, although a sit-com would probably be more appropriate. For example:

Last night J gave me a bemused smile as Bella and I headed outside armed with scissors and a pail. Despite J’s valiant effort at keeping her amused indoors it wasn’t long before Joy came out to help. Or rather, to help herself to some grapes. After a while we came in triumphant with our pickings and set about filling the sink to wash them. I pretended not to notice that Joy had trailed in with bunch in hand. I can not now imagine what kept me from confining her to a corner or a highchair or something, but that story comes later.

Soon Bella and I were moving the washed grapes onto the scale, interrupted by frequent rescue missions to return about a dozen ladybirds (or ladybugs if you prefer) to the aphids inhabiting the vines on the balcony. We were soon joined by Joy, who can never resist the sound of water and made herself at home throwing the washed grapes from the scale back into the sink. It was approaching bed time.

Bella and I finished washing and weighing three pounds of grapes, handed Joy off to J to free more ladybirds and change into dry pajamas, and started squeezing them into a bowl. Bella loves to help. Pulling grapes off of their stems and squeezing the inside out of the skin would have been enjoyable enough, but doing this next to me while we were both acquiring a set of very purple fingers was almost making her squeal with delight. A few minutes later we were off to wash hands, brush teeth and get ready for bed.

On my way to close curtains and pull back covers, I noticed something on the floor in the hall. A grape skin. Someone had stepped on one. I winced a little because it was squashed on the wood floor just outside my bedroom door – and the white carpet now complete with purple tracks over to the bed. The girls brushed their teeth, J and I brushed grape dye out of the carpet and I inspected everyone’s feet. Mine were complete with five little stickers on the soles.

Fast-forward to this morning. The girls played out on the deck for a while, coming in with more purple feet, followed by a bath and spot-cleaning the floor. As soon as Joy went down for a nap Bella and I set about making jam.

I should explain that my mother makes jam, and cans peaches, and freezes vegetables and fruit from her garden, as well as sewing and just about every other homespun crafty type skill. Since I’ve been married and had children, I’ve always felt odd about now growing a garden, preserving, and so on. This year we decided to give ourselves a summer off and not worry. Next year I hope to do much more outside.

Anyway, the reason for my rambling is to explain that I am not in possession of such things as a canning kettle, or special tongs to take hot jars out of boiling water, or that little magnet-on-a-stick thingy that Mom uses to take the sealing rings out of hot water either. I’ve only just this week, thanks to my lovely hubby, come into possession of jam jars.

Anyway, we put the grape flesh into a pot and simmered it for a few minutes until it turned mushy.

Then put it through a sieve to remove the seeds (after I’d tried unsuccessfully to use Mom’s food mill, which I haven’t returned yet since making apple sauce, and during which Joy woke up and wanted to help) and back into the pot with the skins to boil. During which it turned the most beautiful deep shade of purple.

To this we added three cups of sugar, which had been heated in the oven, and then, chaos. Back to our cooking show:

I’d somehow thought that there would be time to wash and sterilize jars while the jam was cooking. And this in spite of the fact that I was planning to use the same pot for both tasks. Suddenly I realized that the jam needed stirred constantly until it was done and then should be put straight into the unwashed, unsterilized jars on the counter.

Ahhh! So Bella stirred, while I told her about twenty times to do so slowly and carefully lest the heating sugar splash and burn her. And I ran down the stairs like a crazy person to find the box of odd pots my grandmother gave us when we moved into our house to see if there was a one large enough to sterilize more than two jars at a time. Eureka!

This was about when Joy decided she was tired and hungry and needed held. So being careful to lift the boiling kettle around and not over her, I flitted back and forth between the sink, kettle, and growing number of pots on the stove, stirring Bella’s jam and handing her back the spoon with more “careful!”s all the while trying to console Joy, hanging onto my leg.

Eventually Joy had had enough and I set a bowl of Mini-Wheats on the table as a precursor to lunch. While they nibbled I finished the jam, burned my fingers putting it into the jars and set the sealing rings on top. Done! All that was left was to process the jars so they’ll keep. I washed my purple pot, boiled yet more water, and set the jars inside. Mom told me when I called in a panic this morning that they should be covered in an inch of water and left to boil for twenty minutes. Ah hem…

Would a centimeter do?

In any case, the pot amazingly did not boil over and we have five jars of delicious purple goodness sealed on the counter and one in the fridge for immediate consumption – once we have some bread, mostly prepared in the course of one french counting songs soundtrack. If I’d planned this properly I would have baked some bread this morning. Maybe J will bring some home…