Late this June, intent on making jam, I set out to pick strawberries. When I arrived at the farm, the fields were already dotted with other pickers. I filled a worn wooden trug with my stained green quart baskets, wandered out into a likely-looking area and began the search for berries.

Soon I fell into an easy rhythm and relaxed into the task. I moved along the rows, brushing my hands through the strawberry foliage and enjoying the treasure-hunt nature of berry picking. The sun was hot on my head and shoulders, but a slight breeze kept the temperature comfortable and the bugs to a minimum. Snippets of conversations from families of nearby pickers rose and fell around me.

“You are the best strawberry-picker I’ve ever seen!” said an admiring grandmother to her young granddaughter. “Isn’t she the best, PopPop?”

“Never seen better,” her grandfather agreed.

“Only 4 years old and she’s already picked two quarts,” her grandmother announced.

“Look, PopPop! Here’s another one,” the child exclaimed. I looked up and saw her holding her hand outstretched toward her grandfather. Her face was lit by a brilliant smile.

“Well, look at the size of that one!” he said, grinning back at her.

” … and not a drop of strawberry juice on her clothes!” continued her grandmother. “Have you ever seen a 4-year-old who could pick berries like that?”

They chatted on in this admiring vein for quite some time. I continued picking, listening to the soft thud of juicy strawberries mounding in my baskets and to the gentle ups and downs of their conversation.

Eventually I stood and stretched, easing the kinks from my lower back, and hoisted my laden basket to head to the farmstand. I paid up and headed toward home for a full day of jam-making. It’s hot, sticky work but oh, so rewarding. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of transforming those sun-warmed berries into jar after jar of bottled jam and then stacking them into neat rows – the essence of summer captured in my pantry cupboard.

To me, jam making is magic. On a cold, dark day this winter, I’ll pull a softly glowing jar of ruby jam from my pantry. I’ll open it up and inhale deeply. And for just a moment, I’ll transcend the wintry day and relive that day in the richly scented strawberry fields.

I’ll feel the warmth of summer sun on my skin again. I’ll hear the echoes of that overheard conversation and the soft plops of the berries piling up in my baskets. I’ll think nostalgically of my steamy, sweet-smelling kitchen, the sticky pots and pans and that transformation from berry to jam.

I like to imagine that those grandparents and that young girl will sit together in a different kitchen, somewhere, sometime. I picture them sitting at a table together with an open jar of strawberry jam beside them and dreamy smiles on their lips. Smiles just like mine.