Friday, 11 September 2020

Procrastination Jelly by Janie Hampton

Procrastination helped me create a way to look at my goldfish above water.
In theory the lock-down of 2020 has been good for thinking and writing. But many of us have found concentrating on anything very difficult. My mind often wanders and I look out of my study window.What do I see? A reason to leave my desk - my garden calls out to be tended. The vegetables want to be harvested; and the fruit picked. This presents an ideal opportunity for procrastination. Without my immediate intervention the pears will disappear. I can see six rooks perched on branches pecking away at the tops of the pears. One by one they crash to the ground. Squirrels do the same annoying trick, only eating a small part. When they bounce on to the lawn, they split, and the wasps attack them. If the potatoes are not dug up this very minute, worms will eat them.
So out into the garden I go with my basket. Jumping up for the pears, I realised that the cabbages need hoeing. After I picked up the hoe, I noticed it needed sharpening. I looked for the sharpening stone, and wondered what the proper name for a sharpening stone is. As I spotted it on the shed shelf, I remembered it is a whetstone, spelled with an ‘h’. Is that to do with water or something quite different? Made mental note to look it up. Sharpened hoe. On the way down the garden path I spotted that the courgettes needed watering. So the hose had to be untangled. And on it went- one procrastination opportunity surpassing the last. Soon I had found the whetstone, sharpened the hoe, sliced through several rows of weeds, watered the courgettes, picked some runner beans, and for good measure even put the garden tools in a neat row. I’d also learned that whet is from the Anglo-Saxon whaet, meaning keen or bold which led to sharpen or stimulate (as in ‘appetite’.) But I was still no further on with my blog.
My vegetable patch gives me plenty of procrastination opportunities.
During this pandemic lockdown, we have all had plenty more time for the art of procrastination. It is defined as ‘to put off, to delay, to defer, to postpone, especially something that requires immediate attention.’ Crastimus is the Latin for ‘pertaining to tomorrow’ – and we all know that tomorrow never comes. It’s the Roman equivalent of ‘manana’. Synonyms include ‘dithering, stalling, delaying tactics and vacillations’, to which I would add ’seeking out distractions, around any corner.’ I suspect that most History Girls and our readers indulge in various levels of procrastination, and can spot a handy distraction a mile off. 
A skip outside a party shop provided me with some
dummy fireworks to hold up my tomatoes.
That consumed a happy afternoon.
The most rewarding kinds of procrastination for writers are those that somehow connect to the writing one is supposed to be doing. While researching my book ‘How the Girl Guides Won the War’, I found a Second World War recipe that took procrastination to new levels. In one fell swoop, I could procrastinate and be ‘researching’ my book at the same time: the recipe demonstrated the historical economics of food rationing, the philosophy of Make Do and Mend and offered an opportunity to practice Real History. And unlike most procrastinations and distractions, there is something delicious to eat at the end. 
Hedgerow Jelly - free from a hedge near you
Find some hedges in late August or September, preferably containing many varieties of fruit-bearing bush. Harvest the fruit on your own and the time spent is both ‘exercise’ (walking along a hedgerow) and ‘work’ (you are silent, so obviously thinking about your next book). If this stretches your conscience too far, then go with some friends as ‘recreation’ - an essential time of ‘re-making your creativity’. Wander down lanes in the countryside, or seek out rogue wild bushes in parks and along footpaths in cities. In your own garden you may find autumn raspberries, elderberries, apples, pears or random gooseberries. Carry a woven basket for authenticity, or a cotton bag for Green credentials, or a plastic ‘Bag for Life’ for practicality. Pick as many berries as you can find, or can be bothered to pick, or can carry. Mix together hawthorn, rose hips, elderberries, both black and red blackberries (red contain more pectin which helps jelly to set), crab apples, wild gooseberries and raspberries. Do not include holly, ivy, privet, yew nor deadly nightshade – they are all poisonous.
Hedgerow jelly comes in many colours.

After washing them in a colander, boil up the berries together in a little water until soft, and then mash them up a bit. Then put into some clean, old tights, and hang from the back of a chair over a large bowl to drip overnight. To remain historically accurate, use cotton muslin or an old, clean tea towel. In the morning, or after a few hours, squeeze the tights (or muslin) to get out all the juice. Put the seedy pulp into the compost, or feed to wild birds or your chickens. 

For every pint of thick red juice, add one pound of white sugar. In a big jam-pan, boil up until the jelly reaches a lovely rolling setting point - drop a blob on a bottle from the fridge. If it sets like jelly, stop cooking. Don’t let it burn. With practice, you can tell when it’s ready: the boiling jelly rolls at a certain speed and plays a certain note. 

Pour into very clean glass jars, or tea cups if you don’t have enough jars. Put circles of grease-proof paper on the surface of the jelly, and screw on a metal lid while still hot. For presents, add circles of dress fabric or old shirts, tied with brown string. 

Good pans make good jam. 

 Make labels that say ‘Best War-time Hedgerow Jelly, 2020’. Or 'Procrastination Jelly, 2020'  Then get back to work. During breaks, eat this delicious, clear, red jelly with bread, or meat, or cheese. Or put some in hot water on cold winter days to remind you of sunnier times.  If you don’t manage to make this fruit jelly this year, then don’t worry, next year will do instead. It’s a deadline that you are allowed to miss. 

This year, when friends are not around, 
chatting to a bantam is a useful waste of time.


Caroline K. Mackenzie said...

I loved this blog, Janie, not least as it gave me an excuse to put off getting on with some writing today.

Your garden looks beautiful and what an ingenious idea for the goldfish! I have been wondering what to do with all the blackberries I have been picking (while mentally drafting this week's History Girls' Blog) so thank you for the excellent recipe. Sounds delicious.

Now, back to writing the blog. Or perhaps I need to go and find some raspberries to go with the blackberries...

Sue Purkiss said...

Love this! But slight pang of guilt as yes, really meant to do some writing when I thought I'd just have a quick look at The History Girls...