Blowin’ In: Putting Up A Jar
By Susan Mangan
Late autumn ushers in early winter. Squirrels have set their garden table with hollowed out acorns. The kernels have long been buried, foodstuff for arctic days, and the caps left open to cradle drops of cold rain. A fitting cordial for the blue jays who toast winter cardinals, inviting them to a frosty buffet.
The bird bath stands alone, hidden in the corner of the garden. Moss has overtaken the water, but perhaps in the spring, new rain will fall, and the robins will again enjoy a frolic in the bath.
My husband has recently put the garden to bed. Hardy leaves of chard remain, covering the last of the carrots and parsnips from the morning cold. Emptied of summer tomatoes, skeletal branches of tarragon and rosemary, his array of terracotta pots will patiently await spring peas.
There is a beautiful sense of hope in the discovery of a weathered clay garden planter that sits empty on the last shelf of the potting shed, or in the corner of the asparagus bed, waiting to provide inspiration. I cannot help but imagine that the birds and beasts of nature feel the same.
Long after amber leaves have fallen, sturdy bird nests hold fast to the branches of the damson plum and apple blossom trees. Female robins search our wintery garden for the many dried seeds and echinacea pods that will sustain them until that time in early April when they will again lay their speckled blue eggs in the safe constructs of their nests.
Having escaped another season with our English Springer Spaniel, the chipmunks will burrow in the large clay planters that dot our chipped wooden deck, and the rabbits will again tunnel far beneath the pea patch. Perhaps I have been long accustomed to the practice of patience and positive mindfulness, for whenever I see an empty vessel, no matter the shape or provenance, I always imagine that container filled rather than empty.
When traveling, I migrate toward specialty food shops and local grocers. Here the seeker can find interesting pots of artisan jams and test-tube like vials of dried rosehips or delicate sprays of lavender. Oftentimes, the containers are even more fascinating than the contents.
In Montreal, I tasted my way through macarons and macaroons, frosted petit fours and almond spiced financier cakes. Circling through the uneven, cobbled streets of Old Montreal, I was on a quest. Entranced by the street names: Rue Sainte-Helene, Rue St. Paul, Rue Saint-Urbain, I almost lost sight of my destination – Maison Christian Faure, a noted bakery and café written up in Bon Appetit magazine.
Here, I was certain to discover the most delicate lavender madeleines and the most exotic baba au rhum. Rather, I was taken by the collection of conserves sitting on every pristine white shelf. Glorious jars filled with precious sounding wobbly jams and spiked chutneys. I finally decided upon Confiture Artisanale: Figue et Violette.
To me, the taste of a jam crafted from flowers and figs was secondary to the glory of the jar, a confection in itself. I left Montreal with my belly full of champagne and oysters, French beer and poutine, but my greatest souvenir was the jar of jam that I squirreled into my overnight case and onto the waiting shelves of my kitchen.
A Secret Set Aside
Call it an obsession or simply a collection, but I have acquired jars everywhere from remote wineries in the Finger Lakes of New York to whiskey distilleries in the Highlands of Scotland. Most recently, and most treasured, is the jar of Christmas Mincemeat with plum and ginger from the Waitrose Market in London’s Marylebone.
While many London tourists boarded the plane back to America sporting luxury Burberry scarves, I was toting small jars of nutmeg from Notting Hill, tins of tea from Covent Garden, and pots of Cotswold honey and brandied pear jam from the Borough Market. Obsession indeed.
Even as I admit my weaknesses to you dear readers, I cannot help but smile at my jar of Follain Blackcurrant Jam procured from Keane’s Meats in Newport, Ireland. This particular pot dates back twenty-four years to my honeymoon. The jam has long been spread upon slices of my mother-in-law’s brown bread, and the treasured container now holds spent vanilla bean pods nestled beneath soft grains of caster sugar. I have baked cookies, pies, muffins, and scones with this fragrant sugar – small gestures of love and comfort sweeten dark days.
There is that old saying about whether you recognize a jar as being half-full or half-empty. In this season of mindful thanksgiving, I may look to my empty jars and recall fond memories of travel and family, but I am always thinking of new ways to fill my jars with simple beauty. While I do enjoy reminiscing about that carefree Montreal weekend I spent with my husband years ago, dashing into bakeries and cafes while April snow fell upon our heads, I value the simplicity of our life today; watching my husband pottering around in his garden and then offering me a humble bouquet of late November herbs which look perfect, resting in my posh pot of confiture.
*Susan holds a Master’s degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at [email protected].