I am a jam lover. I don't make this statement lightly. Jam improved my marriage. I had no idea of its relationship powers until last fall when the Divine Italian went to London and brought me back this:
I know what you're thinking. "She's gone barmy. It's nothing more than a pot of Gooseberry and Elderflower jam." Ah, but that's where you're mistaken.
My husband unzipped his suitcase in the foyer and tossed it to me. "I didn't know what to get you, so I got you this." We were both a bit grumpy, him from 12 hours on a plane, me from a week of single parenthood. I carried it into the kitchen and opened it immediately, as you would have too, if you'd read the description:
"An extremely English marriage of opposites: one tart, one gentler. The result is feisty and wonderfully aromatic."
I took a tiny spoonful.
Not only did the flavors sing to me, they spoke to me. I had a sudden flash of insight. My husband and I also had an English marriage of opposites. I was the tart one, he was the gentler one. Whenever he went away on business, I found it difficult not to resent all the glamorous places he went to while I stayed home and played domestic goddess. I took another spoonful. The undertones of forgiveness in it were unmistakable. I needed to celebrate our separate adventures as well as our shared ones. Tartness belonged better in a jam than in a relationship.
On his next trip to London, he brought me back Strawberry and Fortnum's Champagne.
This time, the label read,
"The union of a wholesome childhood classic with a proper grown-up treat. The champagne is added to the finished jam rather than being stewed into submission. Spread with considered abandon on toast and birthday afternoons."
The "stewed into submission" part rang a distant bell. I have (infrequently) been accused of being (ever so slightly) bossy. On these (rare) occasions, I have (once in a blue moon) been known to harp on a point until I get my way. I blame it on my childhood, where as the oldest of five, my word was law. It's been a hard lesson to accept that the outside world doesn't always feel that way.
Was my husband deliberately choosing these particular jams to send me a message? I strongly doubted it. He wasn't that calculating. But the words lingered. Perhaps I was a bit too domineering at times. Perhaps I needed to take a back seat more. Perhaps my husband and I needed to do more things with considered abandon during the afternoon, birthday or otherwise.
Whoever was doing the writing on those labels was starting to scare me.
Just before Christmas, the Divine Italian went to London again. This time I took advantage of the opportunity and especially requested a pot of Rose Petal Jelly. My fancy friend Max had sworn that ever since tasting it, no lesser jam would ever pass his lips.
I knew Fortnum's made some, but that it was only available at certain times throughout the year. My husband returned from his trip and took his suitcase straight upstairs. I thought I could detect a tell-tale bulge in the side seam...or maybe it was just a shoe.
I waited. And hoped.
Sure enough, on Christmas Day, the Holy Grail of jams was mine. I held it in my hot little hands. Would there be another message? It read:
"A necessarily seasonal specialty: roses are not in season forever - this jelly is made from fresh rose petals from a single garden in Oxfordshire."
I gasped. What could be clearer? It was obviously a coded reference to Robert Herrick's famous poem, "To the Virgins, To Make Most of Time." You know the one:
"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying,
And this same flower that lives today,
Tomorrow will be dying."
Fortnum and Mason were exhorting me in no uncertain terms to embrace the present, to welcome opportunity and to treasure my loved ones because time holds no promises.
I put a teeny amount on the edge of my spoon and tasted it. Of course, it was insane. Subtle, sweetly fragrant and tasting of heaven. I was a better person already.
When I last checked the website, there were still 18 more Fortnum and Mason jams left to try. I'm going to London in March. We'll see what I come home with....