For years now, the end of June/beginning of July has been jam season in our house. On any given evening, if you look out the back window, up the garden, you will see Boss in underneath the bird nets, picking fruit: blackcurrants, red-currants, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries. It’s back-breaking, fiddly work that has to be done at least once, if not twice a day…. especially when it rains (and it rains a lot in Ireland). Buckets and buckets of fruit are handpicked and brought down to be topped (red-currants and blackcurrants); topped and tailed (gooseberries); or shucked (raspberries). Evening after evening is spent in quiet contemplation as hands busy themselves readying the fruit for the pot. Hands too bloodied with fruit juice to turn on the TV.
It brings to mind the electricity blackouts of the 1970s when conversation was rediscovered before being lost altogether to multimedia and home entertainment systems. We sit around, chatting. About nothing of consequence really. Just chatting. The odd comment thrown out to see what it will reel in. The occasional cluas bodhar (deaf ear) turned to a question best left unanswered. On and on it goes. Bucket after bucket. Hundreds of berries being readied for the making. My father has the patience of Job. My mother has the patience of Job, his mother, his aunts, and his sisters.
Jam jars, collected over the previous 12 months, sterilised, stand to attention waiting to be filled. Empty pickle jars lugged home from Budapest; pesto jars from Dublin; mayonnaise jars from Limerick. Jars from the four corners of Ireland find their way, like spawning salmon, back to be refilled for yet another year. Boss watches over each pot, stirring. Making sure the consistency is just right; that the mint for the redcurrant and mint jelly is chopped just so. The night’s takings are jarred and left to set.
One Christmas, a particularly large empty jar appeared with a handwritten note inside: please Mr Murphy, may I have some more? Every visit from our house for the next few months will have a jar of jam for company. Gooseberry for Bridie in Limerick; raspberry for Northbrook; redcurrant for Craigford. Every year, one fruit is scarce. Last year it was gooseberries. This year it’s blackcurrants. These become the valuable jars, saved for those who really appreciate them.
The tools of the trade are simple. What’s needed is time, patience and dedication. The reward is found in the doing. In the accomplishment. In knowing that the fruits of the labour will be enjoyed by so many. Each pot is handed over with a wish for a prosperous year of good health and happiness. Jim Murphy’s jam is famous at home. And as that jam is spread on scones or home-baked brown bread, a thought is spared for the man who made it. And the woman who made it possible. Priceless.