Un Aperçu de la Vie à la Campagne*
Dedicated to Alexandra, a new IG friend who encouraged me to keep writing stories for my blog. (@alexandra_literary_salon)
Alone this afternoon, a familiar honeysuckle scent drifted through my kitchen window as bubbling Gariguette strawberries and rhubarb cooked for confiture (jam). Strawberries smell even better when they heat up, releasing their flavor into the air. I squinted into the hazy glow out the kitchen window; that time of day called the golden hour. Little bugs and pollen floated gently in the sky.
The pivoine's (peony's) petals fluttered, like a silk skirt, disheveled—hushed femininity in the garden.
Mailly-le-Château is a quiet village, except for the Rossignols (Nightingales), the flowing Yonne river that passes under a 14th-century stone bridge, and the rustling willow branches made green by spring. Its silence reveals everything you need to know about life if you pay close attention. Lately, it whispered longing for my family far away and grief for my mother.
A small jar of Muguet des Bois flowers (Lily of the Valley) sits on the edge of my granite sink. Its silvery scent tangles the web of fragrances in my kitchen. The fragrance lingers and painfully clings to my insides, reminding me of a day with my Frenchman last spring. A villager had shared a secret hiding place in the forest. Her instructions read something like, "follow the oaks along the path and take a right through the dense thicket to the top of the hill." Only we mistakenly took a turn where the trail didn't lead and got lost where the woodland turned to spindly trees and boggy land. For hours we ripped through ferns, smashing twigs until we found a spot where amber light streamed through the treetops and shone on clusters of lilies. We picked scores of them, bundled them in their broad leaves, and laughed all the way back home.
French Strawberry Confiture
Use the BEST strawberries you can find, taste them first before making your jam.
(Gariguette strawberries are the earliest variety of spring strawberries in France. They have a sweet, tangy flavor and are highly fragrant)
55% Fruit to 45% Sugar
for 3 pounds or 1.5 Kilograms Strawberries, weighed after removing stems
use the Juice of 1 Lemon
Macerate strawberries with sugar and lemon juice overnight in a covered bowl.
Sanitize Jam Jars, Lids, Ladle, and Funnel.
Cook over medium to high heat in an unlined copper pot (Copper regulates heat very well for jam making and has sanitary and antibacterial properties), stirring often. Let mixture reduce. Don't skim the foam (that is where the natural fruit pectin resides), . Stir it in. Only at the very end of cooking you can remove foam that might be left. . Jam is ready when the digital thermometer reads 103 Celsius or 217.4 Fahrenheit.
Astuce (tip): When ladling into jars, give a quick stir of the pot beforehand to ensure a balanced amount of fruit and syrup in jars. Close lids tightly and turn jars upside down for ten minutes. This is important for sterilization purposes.
*a glimpse into life in the countryside