My first-ever attempt at making blueberry jam was a true disaster, the product of an overly anxious jam newbie obsessed with getting a “gel”. I was so busy running back and forth between my refrigerator and the jam pot checking for thickening, you see, that I utterly failed to notice I’d cooked my jam for probably 25 minutes. By that time the brew in the pot was thick, dark purple and making satisfying plorp plorp noises, so I was certain I’d reached the mysterious “gelling” point. I packed and canned it, anxious for jam on my toast the next morning. It was only after I’d waited all night, run to the kitchen and pried open a jar that I discovered what I’d made: a roughly blueberry-tasting form of rubber cement. Blueberry “butter” in other words, which while it may sound delicious, isn’t. It was the blue goo boo-boo.
The really sad part is that I should have known better. I’d done it before, about three years prior in Portland, Oregon. The wife and I were visiting her aunt and uncle, who happened to have a plum tree in their back yard. When we arrived the thing was ready to snap in two under the weight of its own fruit. A bumper crop, you might say. My bright idea one lazy Saturday: let’s make jam! The trouble was it was very late in the season and the fruit was very ripe, almost over-ripe: the point at which natural pectin starts breaking down.
My uncle-in-law and I got down to business peeling fruit, weighing sugar and setting the canning cauldron to boil. All was going according to plan right up until we cranked the heat to try and set the gel. Nothing happened. We waited and stirred another five minutes. Then another. And another. And another. Oh, these plums are just a little watery, that’s all, just another couple minutes. Finally, at about the half hour point we started to see some progress, or so we thought. The mixture was a little dark but so what? We packed it, processed it and hit the feathers.
The next day we woke to a dozen jars of brown, elastic muck. So thick that a spoon could barely penetrate it at room temperature. We’d evaporated so much moisture and boiled it so long that the sugars had literally cooked into caramel, but not in a good way. Last I heard my uncle-in-law was using it to patch cracks in his storm doors. We still talk about it of course, the day we invented plum gum. Years later I would expand our fruit-based adhesive product line with blue goo. I still have a couple jars of the stuff, waiting for the day NASA puts out a call for a new stick-um to hold space shuttle tiles in place.