Jam With Everything!

During the 1930s my childhood in Gatley, Cheshire, was punctuated by the annual grand jam-making festival. Years later I discovered that this primeval event was linked to the yearly fete on the recreational ground alongside Gatley Brook.

At the fete many friendships were lost when the results were announced for the best baby award, the best onion award, the best fruit cake award and, in particular, the best jam award. No-one, however refined, was prepared to concede that their baby, onions, fruit cake or jam could possibly be inferior to that made by anyone else in the village!

My grandmother Martha, who was not refined, was inclined to state, quite loudly, that the judges were most probably drunk and incapable of appreciating the nectar of the gods in her jam jars. My dear mother and her friend Rita, who were fellow conspirators and joint jam manufacturers, endeavoured to stem Martha’s remarks with kind words of assurance that they’d help once more with next year’s fruit harvests.

Meanwhile, for many months, we had the
unsold jam with everything, including burnt toast, thick porridge and yucky Yorkshire puddings.

The next year arrived and the various fruits ripened in the back garden of Rita Harding’s house on Church Road. I helped to pick the fruits again. We would trudge down the road, carrying baskets of approved fruit, and leave them in the yard of the co-operative store at Oakwood house where my family lived.

When the harvest had been gathered, the jam-making process would begin behind the sealed doors of an outhouse. Enormous aluminium bowls would appear from nowhere and be placed, in turn, on to a large gas boiler ring. Sugar, water, fruit and small amounts of unspecified secret ingredients would be added to the mixture. The ‘great boiling’, as I called it, went on for hours. Steam filled the outhouse and soaked our clothes. The only compensation was the glorious smell of the boiling fruits -raspberries, damsons, greengages and the rest.

It was like a scene I saw later in life from Macbeth, where the three witches danced wildly
round the giant steaming bowls chanting: “Double, double, toil and trouble;

Fire bum and cauldron bubble. ’’

“and now about the cauldron sing,

Like elves and fairies in a ring,

Enchanting all that you put in. ”

Cautious tastings of cooled dollops of jam on wooden spoons would be made. The potion would be declared the best ever made in Gatley and ready for bottling. The precious contents would be poured through strainers (to eliminate bluebottles and the like) into hundreds of cleaned kilner jars. Piles of gummed labels would be wetted on tongues and stuck on the containers. With bated breath we awaited the next summer fete.

Always I prayed that perhaps in this year grandma Martha, my mother Emily, and Rita would win the best jam award and sell the stocks – but they never did.

Always, at my home, we had yet another year of jam with everything.

I hate the stuff!,

Peter Boden