Raspberry Jam

 

Rethinking Autism Facebook Post

I read this post on the Rethinking Autism Facebook page a day or so ago. I couldn’t get it out of my head. As it is, some parents of autistic kids get caught up in their own sorrow over their child’s autism. This state of mind, in one form or another, is invariably emitted like a beacon clearly perceived by the very people who rely on them to be a buoy in the turbulent waters of society—their autistic kids. Truth be told, it’s not always easy to keep it together in front of your kids whether they’re on the spectrum or not. But for autistics, you’d be short-changing them and yourself if you think they don’t see your fragmented state or read your mood. 

It brought to mind a piece I wrote a couple of years ago when I first began to realize my child’s awareness was innately keen—observances made by my son that I’d typically write off as mundane. But to him, this chronicling was and still is, everything. Here’s the story as it was published on July 31, 2011:

 

The Gift

When my son Devin expressed an interest in raspberries I already knew he liked to eat them. After all, they are gorgeous to look at and they do an intriguing tart/sweet tango when you bite into one. He’d pop a few fresh berries in his mouth and revel in all the sensory joy the ruby colored fruit had to give. What parent wouldn’t be thrilled to have their child enjoy a plant food rated among those with the highest fiber content known, and loaded with polyphenol antioxidants?

 

Berry Boy

 

But what I didn’t know, initially, is that he wanted to grow them. Devin is autistic. He has the gift of eidetic memory (photographic memory) which serves his passion for numbers, calendar dates and events very well. In most cases he speaks in literal terms—there’s no question as to the subject of what he’s talking about. It was during a visit to the garden center, however, that he spoke in general terms. “I like raspberries,” he said as he pointed to a pallet of young raspberry plants in gallon containers. We bantered back-n-forth a time or two, the exchange never veering from the topic of liking raspberries and I figured we were done.

 

Crushing Raspberries

 

I suppose my first clue should have been that his eyes never strayed from the jagged edged leaves of the bright green berry plants. Even as I had moved on towards another section of the nursery, he didn’t budge (my second clue). I turned and called out to him. His gaze was fixed on those plants. I called out his name again. Silently, he lifted his hand to point at the pallet of emerald foliage like a Pointer on the scent of a trail. I returned to where the sweet boy was standing, knelt before him to bring my eyes to his level and we began a good father to son conversation.

 

Canning supplies washed and ready to go

 

With a few pointed questions of my own, my heart melted at the realization my boy wanted to grow plants just like me—something he’s seen me do numerous times before (my third clue). Of course, it was right in front of me the whole time…my favorite place outside of the kitchen is the garden. For the thousands of times we’d spend in the yard together, me working and he silently observing, recording in his mind how I’d tend to the flowers and vegetables, he expressed a desire to try it! His boyish smile was irresistible and bright when I suggested that we keep the raspberry plants in mind, but we should first survey our garden at home to be sure we have the perfect spot to grow them…

 

Canning pot and cooking fruit.

 

Two seasons later, the raspberry plants I gave Devin as a gift for his birthday have flourished in what has amounted to a nice bounty of plump berries! I’m not sure if it’s a bumper crop, or if I got the organic matter heaped on just right (our blueberry shrubs were also vigorous producers), but I’d be remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to Mother Nature who was VERY generous with spring rains this year. This I know for sure, there aren’t enough Sunday morning whole-grain pancakes, salads or snacking opportunities to keep on top of the fresh supply of garnet-hued berries we had.

 

Cooling raspberry jam jars.

 

In my book it would be a crime to allow the fruit to spoil simply because you can’t consume it, share it, or give it away fast enough. In this case, there’s only one tried and true way I know of to savor the flavor by making use of the crop—can it!

 

Devin's Berries

 

Besides, what’s not a more delicious way to keep an expressed interest in raspberries alive all year long?

 

Homemade Raspberry Jam

RASPBERRY JAM

Prep Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Yield: About 5 pint jars of jam

RASPBERRY JAM

A well-stocked pantry containing jars of homegrown fruits and vegetables canned at their peak of flavor is a culinary joy—and this raspberry jam recipe is no exception. A home canning project will reward your family and friends year round and it’s economical too. If you haven’t tried canning before, there are many inexpensive handbooks available to teach you the skills necessary to can foods safely and with delicious results!

Ingredients

  • 8 to 9 cups fresh raspberries
  • 7 level cups granulated sugar
  • 1 scant teaspoon butter
  • 1 package dry powdered pectin
  • Have ready to go:
  • • An appropriate number of clean* pint or half-pint jars to accommodate as much as 9 cups of cooked fruit.
  • • An equal amount of NEW clean flat lids paired with clean bands (new or used) to seal the number of jars you decide to use.
  • • Three pots for the stove: the canning pot filled to about 2/3rds full of water, a heavy bottomed 8 quart stock pot for the fruit, and a medium pot about half full of simmering water to heat/sanitize lids and bands.
  • • Other tools like tongs, a jar lifter, canning rack, potato masher, sieve (or strainer) and cheesecloth, hot pads and towels.

Instructions

  • Bring the boiling-water canner to a simmer while you prepare the fruit.
  • Choose only the best berries which are clean and free of bruises and blemishes. In a large bowl, crush 8 cups of the berries with a potato masher. It doesn't have to be perfectly mashed; some remaining chunks are acceptable. Sieve half of the pulp or twist the pulp in small batches in a cheesecloth bundle over a bowl to catch the juice and to remove the seeds. Discard the seeds but return the strained juice and pulp to the mashed berries. You will need a 5 cup measure of the mashed berries/juices. If the measure falls short, mash the last cup of berries to fill the 5 cup requirement. Any leftover mashed berries (seeds strained, of course) is sensational when added to fresh-squeezed lemonade or added to a vinaigrette!
  • For the boiling-water canner increase the heat to achieve a medium rolling boil. Meanwhile, immerse the lids and bands in the medium pot; let sit.
  • Add the measured berries to the 8 quart stock pot. Stir in the package of pectin. Mix until the pectin is completely dissolved and well incorporated. Add the butter to reduce foaming. On high heat, constantly stir the mixture and bring to a full rolling boil —a boil that won't stop bubbling when stirred.
  • Quickly stir in the sugar all at once. Return the mixture back to a full rolling boil. Cook at a boil for exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and skim off any foam with a heat proof spoon.
  • Quickly ladle the fruit into the prepared jars and fill to about 1/8th of an inch from the top. Run a butter knife against the inside of each jar to remove any air bubbles, then wipe the jar rims and threads with a clean damp cloth. Use tongs or a canner's magnet wand to fish the lids and bands from the pot of hot water. Cover the jars with the 2-piece lids screwing the bands on until finger tight. Place the jars onto the canning rack; lower rack into the water. The water level should cover the tops of the jars by 1 to 2 inches. If not, add the water from the medium pot (or more) until the coverage is achieved. Cover, and process jams for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the jars from the hot water and place on a towel to cool completely. When the jars have cooled, check the seal by pressing on the center of the lid. A lid that springs back is not properly sealed and refrigeration is required. Allow the sealed jars to sit at room temperature, undisturbed, for 24 hours. Store jams in a cool, dry place for up to one year. Refrigerate opened jams for as long as 3 weeks.

Notes

Safe canning practices are paramount to preventing food related illness and possibly death. Please read up on the topic by consulting a home canning guide if you are a newcomer to processing foods. *Clean should be defined as jars, utensils, and equipment that has been thoroughly washed in hot, soapy water, rinsed well and dried. If you are canning at an elevation more than 1,000 feet above sea level, you will want to increase the processing time—for this recipe: increase the time by 5 minutes for 1,000-3,000 ft. elevation. Add 10 minutes for 3,000 to 6,000 ft. and 15 minutes for 6,000 to 8,000 ft. Refrain from processing a filled jar that has more than 1/4-inch headroom. Instead, transfer this jam to an airtight container, cover, let cool and store in the refrigerator. Some of the bands may loosen during the processing. Do not retighten the bands as doing so may break the vacuum seal.

http://cakewalkr.com/raspberry-jam/

 

Epilogue 

Had I not taken the time to truly understand my son’s desire that day at the garden center, both he and I would’ve missed a lovely opportunity to grow and bloom—both as father & son and as individuals. If I have one piece of advice to give parents with a new autism spectrum diagnosis it’s this: Do the work, the hard work and get up to speed fast. Keep love up front and fear to the rear. Akin to learning a new language; autism can entail a different way of communicating, a different way of living. As you acquire skills the language will become less foreign and opportunities won’t be lost. You’ll be the buoy you are depended upon to be. 

Devin is happy, flourishing and fully mainstreamed in the public school system. He’s made the honor roll twice! 

And the raspberry plants? They come back every season with a bounty as robust as the last.

Comments

  1. How lucky Devin is to have you as his dad, and how lucky you are to have Devin as your son. Your story touched me, and I thank you for sharing it.

  2. Rosemary says

    Thanks for sharing this, Brooks. Brought back many memories of picking the patch as a child alongside my brother and sometimes succumbing to the urge to pop a few of the prized gems into my mouth. Step 2 was to help Mom cook, strain and put up all those jars of jam. We recycled everything. Mason jars were saved for putting up vegetables so the variety of shaped jars used for jams were sealed with paraffin Mom’s family and friends always hoped they’d receive a jar of her tasty raspberry jam.

    • Brooks Walker says

      Rosemary, what a lovely memory! My grandparents had a pantry full of paraffin-sealed jars and while I don’t use the method, the visual of it reels me back to my childhood too. I’m so glad you stopped by.

  3. Keep love up front and fear to the rear. I love that. It might just be my battle cry for the year, and I don’t even have an autistic child. This was such a sweet piece, Brooks. Thanks foe sharing your heart and relationship with Devin with us. And the jam; thank you for that delicious recipe too.

    • Brooks Walker says

      My pleasure Christiane. Sharing a story like this one is important―especially if it brings a glimmer of hope to someone who needs it. Let me know how it goes if you give the recipe a run in your kitchen.

  4. Beautiful story about Devin, but also about love, tolerance and communication between a father and son – any father and son. As parents, we should stop more often to really understand what our children as interested in. The jam is a sweet reminder of that. Thanks for sharing, Brooks. And thanks to Devin for sharing his love of berries with us!

    • Brooks Walker says

      Dear Jeanne, watching him pick his berries is pure joy! I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

  5. Beautiful jam, and beautiful story. I think, we as parents, often forget how to speak our kid’s language…whether they’re on the spectrum or not. Listening often brings beautiful things…even raspberries!

  6. Beautifully written and executed. I love the photos of Devin and love the story of how even something as ordinary, but beautiful, as raspberry jam is capable of enhancing the connection and fortifying your relationship with your son. Great post, thanks for sharing!!

  7. Oh my goodness, I really wish I lived down the street from you right now. I’d be popping by dropping hints how much I love raspberry jam. Lol!

  8. Thank you for sharing your story. The jam looks amazing and Devin looks so very happy!

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