My mother, busy raising nine children, always made time to make gooseberry jam

There must have been cool, rainy jam-making days but in my memory the gooseberry jam day was always warm and sunny

“The prepared gooseberries and water were tipped into a large aluminium saucepan and gradually softened to a syrupy pulp.”

“The prepared gooseberries and water were tipped into a large aluminium saucepan and gradually softened to a syrupy pulp.”

 

I had a ‘madeleine moment’ recently when I bit into a scone and homemade gooseberry jam. The smell, the taste, the colour and consistency were all perfect. In an instant, I was back in the small kitchen of our home in Dublin more than 50 years ago.

My mother, busy rearing nine children, did not make a lot of jam or other preserves, but every summer, when the gooseberries were in season, she made jam. There must have been cool, rainy jam-making days but in my memory the gooseberry jam day was always warm and sunny.

As we didn’t have any fruit bushes in our back garden, she watched and waited until our local greengrocer, Dan, got them in. Then, 4lb of green gooseberries had to be topped and tailed. This was the tedious part, but the tantalising promise of the finished product kept us going as we helped our mam with the task.

Then, the prepared gooseberries and water were tipped into a large aluminium saucepan and gradually softened to a syrupy pulp. Four pounds of sugar were added and brought slowly to the boil while the sugar dissolved, all the time being stirred by Mam in the by-now hot and steamy kitchen.

As the jam bubbled away on the hob of the small Jackson electric cooker, the rich aroma filled the kitchen and the house, whetting our appetites and adding to my growing feeling of anticipation. To test its readiness, Mam placed a teaspoon of jam on a saucer and put it on the windowsill to cool slightly, before running a finger through it. If it wrinkled and shrivelled it was ready, if not, it needed to boil another while. I thought this took for ever.

Finally, the jam was taken off the hob and left to cool before being ladled into a big earthenware jar and some pre-heated jam-jars, then covered with small rounds of cellophane. The jars lined up on the kitchen table seemed to taunt us. I longed to taste it, but we had to wait until it set, but we usually managed to persuade Mam to let us have some the following day. Those jars of jam were never labelled or dated. There was no need. In that busy house, the jam didn’t last too long, but while it did we smothered it onto our bread and scones and tasted a bit of homemade heaven.

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