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Jack's Strawberry Letter (aged) 23

There are days, still fresh in our memory, when the sun set far earlier than we hoped for. Our days didn’t feel like days at all. Dark, cold, damp, lingering. Winter can often feel like it outstays its welcome, particularly after December’s festivities. Yet, with each passing evening, the sun would stick around a little longer, gifting us a precious extra minute of light to savour. A reminder that brighter days lie ahead. In fact, looking back, the winter makes days like today even more worthwhile. As Steinbeck says, “what good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness”. So, as we now bask in the sunshine of July, we appreciate the fruits of summer that little bit more.

July means many things here at the jam factory. Perhaps most presently, it is strawberries and tennis. As this year’s finalists take to Centre Court over the weekend, hundreds, if not thousands, of attendees will have scoffed down our strawberry jam within the grounds in SW19. England Preserves to serve…

We’re busy here. Very busy. After producing a whopping amount of strawberry jam for Wimbledon, we’ve switched our brains straight back to creative mode. Pencil in hand, coffee in cup, jam in mind. ‘What’s next?’, Sky asked me in our first marketing meeting after production. What emerged from that meeting was a roadmap for a new product. You see, we have our jam, and we have our customers, but that can only get you so far. To keep pushing forward, you must innovate.

Sky, as she has an excellent habit of doing, created something with the best intentions for you - the customer. Her Jam-Making Kit (which you can purchase by clicking here) could be seen as something of a risk. It is, in a sense, showing the customer that you can make exceptional low-sugar jam at home. You guys could put us out of business, right?! Why buy the jam when you can make it at home? Hmm.

The reason why it works is because it is collaborative between you and us. Sky has a fountain of knowledge, with more than 20 years of endless experimentation, failure, success, and growth. Even now, as I write this, she is upstairs working on the most ridiculous Lemon Marmalade, which tastes like lemon sherbet. I think it’s perfect, but she is still fine-tuning. To put it plainly, to learn from her is to learn from the best. What is most exciting is that when you start to make your own jams with our kit at home, we can learn from you. The possibilities are endless.

During the testing phase of our product, one of our guineapigs made Strawberry and Rose Gin jam out of their love for gin. Creative, personal, and undoubtedly delicious.

So, here I am, writing a Strawberry Letter (aged) 23 - apologies for the naff Shuggie Otis reference - after making my first ever jam (with help from my mum), from the same strawberries I used to eat 20 years ago. 

In many ways, life feels as though it has come full circle. With the delights of Wimbledon and the sight of seasonal strawberries, I have been transported back 20 years to my 3-year-old self. As a wee’un, I was nicknamed ‘Fluffy Tennis Ball Head’ due to my customary bright blonde bedhead that reminded my brother and sister of the whisker-like fuzz you find on old tennis balls. A nickname more suitable for Einstein if you ask me, but hey ho!

During these fluffier days, we would frequent the local ‘Pick-Your-Own' farm close to my childhood home in Yealmpton, Devon. It was a real treat. We’d saunter around the fields on a summer’s day, loading up punnets of strawberries and, of course, popping a few in to eat when no one was looking. On one of my more mischievous missions, I spent almost the entirety of the walk stuffing my face with strawberries direct from the leaves. Unbeknownst to me, the troublesome act had left a rather obvious red stain around my chops from the fresh strawberry juice. As we went to pay, we placed our punnets of strawberries on the scales and the chap behind the counter took one look at me, smirked, and asked, ‘you haven’t been eating any of my strawberries have you, young man?’. With confusion in my eyes, I shyly shook my head from side-to-side. ‘That’s alright then’, the man replied. I think I got away with that one…

Last week, I returned to Devon to visit my family and came equipped with Sky’s Jam Making kit. There was only one place I was heading: back to the Pick-Your-Own farm, back to my childhood. 

Despite the overcast skies above, the fields ahead were as bright as bright as I remembered. Startling flashes of red amongst luscious green grass. Strawberries! Beautiful strawberries! I naively asked my mum, ‘why do you think strawberries are so popular?’; perhaps, at 23, I am a little too young to appreciate their magic. She gave me two suitable answers. Firstly, in season strawberries taste delightful and they’re a joy on the eye. Secondly, because they’re magical. She told me how she’d go hunting for wild strawberries in her Granda’s garden in Northern Ireland, beaming with joy when she and her brothers uncovered little red jewels amongst the foliage. My feelings towards strawberries are less aligned with excitement. They’ve always been there. All year round. Always in plastic punnets. Always flavourless.

However, as I plucked away at the branches, I noticed a familiar feeling of excitement. The moment your eye catches a particularly plump looking strawberry, you just know. That’s going straight in my basket, I thought. Of course, I did slip a couple down as we ventured through the fields. However, I masterfully equipped myself with a handkerchief before we set off; I am not taking that risk again.

My mum and I headed home with our punnets of strawberries, eager to put Sky’s Magic Jam-Maker to the test.

When we came up with the product’s name, I asked Sky what she meant by ‘magic’. She told ‘making jam is relatively simple but making simple jam good is a whole lot harder’. ‘Use our formula,’ she said, ‘and you will make beautiful jam every time. It's like magic’.

Now, despite having a passion for eating and talking about food, I am no chef. My mother, too, has never made jam before. We are novices. However, our strawberry jam is delicious. Not too sticky, not too runny, not too sweet, not too tart. Just right.

Making jam is one of the most fulfilling processes I can remember having in the kitchen.

The excitement of collecting the fruit from the local farm, preparing the strawberries, applying love to the cook, adding the sugar, seeing the colours burst into life, filling the jars, leaving them to cool, spreading our own jam onto fresh scones (cream on first, obviously), and knowing that the time spent making it was worth it. 

Because, within these jars, we have captured memories. Memories that traverse the tenses. You see, through using the same strawberries I so vividly remember eating as a child, we preserved the past. In joyfully preparing the jam alongside my wonderful mother, we preserved the present. And, in making something that will be enjoyed long into the future, we have opened the door to new memories. And that, to me, seems pretty magical.

Thank you for reading!