Perfectionist Burns the Jam

Figs are fragile fruit. Birds love them as a source of food and water. When they ripen here in late June, birds that weren’t interested in our yard for months gather to chomp away. The tree is too tall to net, so for two weeks or so, I engage in the dance of the fig protection lady. I never win. I’ve tried scaring the birds, I’ve tried sharing–I’d be thrilled if they ate all the figs at the top of the tree. But nope, they eat a quarter of all of them.

We’ve had a few weeks of fierce heat, and the figs were starting to scald from the sun. I picked as many as I could to make jam. Some riper ones, and some not quite ripe, but fine for jam.

After they are washed, I removed the stems and cut them into chunks.

Into a pot they went, with the juice of half a lemon, some lemon zest and water enough to almost cover them. Sugar gets added later. I simmered them down, then added about a cup of sugar. Simmered again.

They  were getting close, so I added a bit of honey for a deeper taste. Honey burns easily, so I set a timer. I was also doing laundry, watering the plants, and catching up on email, so setting a timer is vital. Too easy to forget what’s on the stove till the smoke alarm smells it.

The timer hadn’t gone off when I smelled scorching fruit. I raced to the stove, but too late. An entire batch of fig jam–probably the only one we’ll get this year–ruined.

It’s hard for a perfectionist to deal with making mistakes. Doesn’t matter that I set the timer, I should have set it for a shorter time. Fig jam is not to be trifled with. Then I had a thought. Of all the tutorials I’ve seen, both on art and on cooking, I’ve rarely seen a mistake posted. Julia Child was calm when she made a mistake, but I haven’t seen a mistake posted in any tutorial I’ve seen.

Here’s mine. In all its burned-on glory. Much as I hate to admit my mistake, I think it’s important to other perfectionists to see that even experienced cooks, successful artists, and practiced experts mess up, ruin the jam, tear the page, use a hideous color, and the project doesn’t work. It happens. The important part is what happens next. A few years ago, I would have burst into tears, threatened the timer, bemoaned my fate. Not effective. Won’t bring the figs back. We learn more from our mistakes than we do from success. Learning to deal with failure is an important part of learning to deal with success.

Here’s the great tip. I learned this from a wise friend: Put cold water in the pot, add about half a cup of salt and a quarter cup of baking soda, but the pot on low heat and let it slowly boil for about 20 minutes. Pour the mess down the drain, and the pot will be easy to clean–no hard scrubbing.

And I’m back outside, watching for a few more figs to ripen.