I think I became truly middle-aged the day I got home from university. What I reallly wanted, I decided, was some fucking peace and quiet, Radio 4 and something baking in the oven. I became obsessed with storage solutions, even though I didn't have anything to store, and bookmarked Lakeland and Farrow and Ball.
I had recently got into the West Wing and while I went wibbly like everyone else over the general smart-arsery and political blah-blah (like the easily impressed fool I am) I also fell in love with the sets. That plush, wholesome Americana thing. Tobacco-coloured lamps on polished wood. Rugs on floors. Wide-striped wallpaper. Plantation shutters. Comfort. Quality.
I think it was around about then that I first started having - admittedly rather lateral - thoughts that maybe I ought to learn how to cook. It didn't really happen because I tried one or two things and they didn't work out, so with typical determination and perseverence, I gave up.
But the feeling lingered. That middle-aged feeling, (despite being 22), and for a long time, whenever autumn rolled around, I wanted to make jam. But because I lived at home, which has no fruit trees, and then subsequently in a high-rise flat on Kensington High Street, if I wanted to make jam I would have to buy the fruit to make it, from a shop. And even I knew that there was something not quite right about that.
So I never made jam. But I always wanted to. I made marmalade a few years ago to test out a recipe for a cookbook and in fact it turned out to be quite easy.
Then I went to stay with next-eldest sister in Oxfordshire who suggested I make some jam from then damsons weighing down her tree and using a mash-up of my own bumptiousness and Delia, made some damson jam that worked out really quite well. Alas, in the chaos of packing up for Kitty for even one night I forgot the flaming camera, so there are no dreamy photos of the damson tree in autumnal light.
I can't give you exact quantities, because I didn't weigh anything, but this is the idea of the recipe. Exact quantities can be found on Delia Online.
A quantity of damnsons - about a big saucepan-full
A 2 kg bag of caster sugar - you won't use the whole thing but you might as well buy a huge bag just in case
1 Put the damsons in a large pan and fill with water until just covered. Stew for about an hour.
2 Pass the resulting mixture through a colander to get rid of skin and stones. Don't do it through a sieve because you'll be there all week.
3 Set your strained mixture on the highest head you can on the hob. Now, here I added sugar to taste. I don't like a really over-sweet jam and wanted to keep some of the tartness of the damsons. So I shook in as much sugar as I wanted to flavour it. You can do that, or you can follow Delia's quantities religiously, if you don't feel confident going off-road.
4 Now boil the shit out of it. For about 45 minutes, I'd say. My sister turned down the heat after about 25 minutes because the jam was bubbling and "going everywhere". But it still set. To test if your jam is ready, put a small plate in the fridge and after about 40 minutes' boiling dab a blob on the plate and leave it. The coldness of the plate hastens the cooling of the jam and you can only tell whether jam is set when it's cold.
You can sterilise some jars by putting them in a 180C oven for about 5 minutes. Then pour in the jam while it's still warm and runny.
Label artistically and pretend you are a lady novelist living in a river cottage in Sussex.