Jam on, jam off

Even as a vengeful God casts his wrath upon Sacramento during the summer in the form of triple-digit temperatures (probably because of gay marriage), the season still brings an endless bounty of strawberries, plums and peaches just begging to be made into jam.

I've been jamming since I caught Alton Brown's 30-minute dedication to the preservation process on the Food Network in high school, and I honestly don't know why I still do it. After all, my sensibilities are far flung from Little House on the Prairie. Nothing in this world makes me feel as safe and warm as vast amounts of concrete and neon lights blaring the words “fresh doughnuts.” But like clockwork, in mid-July through September I boil mason jars and stock up on pectin.

Don't believe the hype. Homemade jam is good, but it's not worth half the trouble that goes into it. Making it requires patience, precision and the discipline to stand over a hot stove at a time you would much rather be relaxing in front of a fan with a tall glass of sweet tea.

Did I mention that the process and results are temperamental? The uncertainty with jam is always there, ready to break your heart. It's like watching a beautiful newborn baby grow into a mouthy teenager who hates you. There's no telling if the peach-strawberry jam you put up to keep will actually remain edible by the time you crack it open in mid-November. Maybe the jar lids didn't stay on as tight as they should have. Maybe the sugar wasn't measured as precisely as you thought. There are a million ways for jamming to go wrong, and to find your summer investment looking and smelling like the Exxon Valdez in your pantry.

But, like situps and not eating Hot Cheetos at 3 a.m., I jam not to have a sweet spread for months to come but to gain discipline. Parks and Recreation's most beloved character is probably Ron Swanson, because he reminds us of just how awesome a man can be when he works with his hands. My dad can fix cars. I can barely drive my Honda. His dad built the house my dad grew up in. I don't know my way around a hammer unless I'm playing Super Smash Bros. My skill may not be as manly or useful, but I can make jam, and boatloads of it.

Jam making is also my insurance if society collapses into a Mad Max situation. I want to have real applicable skills to lend to the new and less-kind world of the future, so I don't get settled with the job of “gang jester” or “bullet shield.” Wasteland warlords won't care that I can use all Adobe applications or that I know who the Prime Minister of Japan is. But even the most cruel of warlords can't resist a fresh jar of pluot.