Making Strawberry Jam This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Seven quarts of strawberries, a sense of adventure, and an unforgettable link to the past. That's what my mom and I shared on a dull August morning this summer. It was the end of strawberry season, so we wanted to treasure the last of the crimson gems before it was too late. Some were slightly dented, like the impressions that appear after you get up from sitting on a cushion; some were starting to turn the color of potato skins, and some were so juicy and fresh that you wanted to put them in your mouth immediately. Cartons and cartons of strawberries were displayed to catch our eye the minute we walked into the farmer's market. Farmers were giving away strawberries from the previous day's harvest.

My mom and I grabbed quarts of strawberries like kids hoarding candy on Halloween. We left with seven quarts, deciding immediately that we would make jam. Neither of us had ever made jam before. Regardless, we set two quarts aside and surfed the Internet for a recipe.

My grandma was the cook in my family. She lived with us, so up until she passed away six years ago, nobody in my family had to set foot in the kitchen, except me, her “little helper.” In her delicate cursive handwriting that slanted like grass on a windy day, she wrote all her recipes in a tattered green recipe book that perched alongside fifty cookbooks in a cabinet. Her apron, the one that my brothers and I made for her birthday with “Gramma's Apron” written on it, still hung white and stiff on the back of the pantry door.

Every other day, Grandma would ask me to help with whatever was on the menu for the week, like crunchy Chinese salad or meatballs. I would do the small jobs like crawling into a cabinet to find a pot, pinching the edges of the pierogies with a fork, or peeling the leaves off a cabbage head. My brothers and I always looked forward to Wednesday afternoons, when Grandma had warm, fresh buns ready when we got off the bus and burst through the back door.

After she died, I became the keeper of the recipes. I use everything she taught me as her “little helper” to cook and bake for my family. She shared all her tips and baked with me so I could hold the family responsibility of her prized recipes. Now I'm independent and mature enough to walk into the kitchen by myself and have a baking day. My family trusts me to keep her cooking tradition going, and they still don't need to set foot in the kitchen.

Every time I attempt one of Grandma's recipes, it never turns out quite the way she made it. It may take me an hour to bake cookies that took her twenty minutes, my sauce may be thicker, and my pierogies might taste a bit different, but Grandma's spirit and everything she taught me are embedded in every recipe I try.

I miss the days when I was Grandma's helper, and sometimes it's hard to cook without her fairy dust magic. But when I cook, I think of her. She introduced me to the kitchen and showed me the mystery, adventure, and thrill of cooking. Because she taught me, I can cook, find new recipes, experiment, and add to her recipe book to continue her tradition. I almost feel like I keep Grandma alive every time I turn on the mixer or open the cookbook cabinet. It's like I can hear her wispy voice in my head, telling me to mix harder. I can feel her arms firmly around me, as she once held the big blue mixing bowl in place.

Three stained wooden spoons, a kitchen floor sprinkled with sugar that stuck to our bare feet like sand, happy but tired faces, and three long days later, my mom and I had made eight jars of strawberry jam that tasted like snow melting on your tongue. Our jam might not have been as good as Grandma's, but I know she would have been proud. I had another recipe to add to the green book. And who knows, maybe one day my grandchild will use it too.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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