Perfect preserves escape me yet again

If I were ever to open a business (which is highly unlikely) I would call it something like Lynda’s Less Than Perfect Offerings. People might mistake it for a second-hand shop, but at least I’d be getting them in the door.

They probably wouldn’t come for what I’d actually be selling – nearly jelled jellies, almost perfect banana bread, not-quite-hot-enough curry in a crockpot, passable tea biscuits.

There comes a time in one’s life, perhaps it is on the downward slope toward the century mark, when one comes to terms with one’s gifts and abilities. Or lack thereof. When one realizes perfection will not be attained in most realms. OK, probably not in any.

I can live with that.  Happily, even. Without much apology.

I think I’ve known this truth about myself for a while, delusion (thankfully) not being one of my defining characteristics.  I am, however, an optimist. Inevitably when I begin a task, whether it is cooking, writing or arranging a room, I am certain the end result will be perfection itself.

But it never quite works out that way. Perhaps that’s because I tend to be satisfied with good enough. It’s not that I have low standards; rather I’ve realized I’m neither perfect nor a perfectionist. I can live with almost.

I know this because there are 24 jars of preserves in my kitchen right now that are less than perfect. I refer to the nearly jelled jellies that would take up a shelf in my imaginary, and certain to fail, business venture.

These are destined to become Christmas gifts for friends and family who are accustomed to my less-than-perfect offerings.

I was excited about the prospect of making preserves this year. Still am, actually, because I’m not done bottling nature’s offerings.  One of the things I appreciate most about living in Southern Ontario is the relatively cheap and easily accessible fresh produce.

I can’t walk by a mound of field tomatoes in the market on Bloor Street without imagining a dozen bottles of ripe tomato relish. I spy zucchini and cauliflower and can visualize golden bottles of curried zucchini relish.

Red peppers for less than $1 a pound. Who can pass that up?

Every time I eat a peach (and that’s been a frequent occurrence) I wonder if I could successfully preserve its freshness, the way my brother-in-law’s mother does it.

Her name is Barb and she’s one of those fantastic Maritime cooks who would never have to worry about a less-than-perfect offering. Her canned peaches tast like she plucked them directly from the tree. I can’t even begin to imagine how she accomplishes that.

I know from experience I never will.

Two weeks ago I brought home a couple of hefty bags of red peppers that I purchased for less than one dollar a pound. Last week, my niece, who lives near the Niagara Escarpment (in blessed proximity to grape vines) brought me three pounds of Concord grapes for a mere $10.

I chopped, processed, cooked and bottled the peppers.  My end result was a thick, beautiful red pepper spread. Eleven bottles. But I wouldn’t exactly call the result jelly. That would be false advertising.

I boiled the grapes, then hung the purple pulp in cheesecloth, leaving the juice to slowly drip into a bowl. Three hours later, in spite of a near catastrophe when the boiling juice splashed all over my stove top, I proudly surveyed 13 bottles of perfectly purple, less-than-perfectly jelled jelly.

Pair grape jelly with ripened brie. Food for the gods.

It’s almost there. But not quite.

Everyone tells me my preserves taste great, even if they don’t look quite like the store-bought variety. Or the kind a really good cook like Barb would produce.

I’ve had this happen to me before. In fact, I think that most years, my jellies are soft and not firm. When I lamented my predicament to my mother and my sister, both said not to worry, my preserves always turn out this way.  And by the way, would I be sending some their way?

A work colleague, whom I’d given a bottle of less-than-perfect grape jelly to last year, assured me she and her husband thoroughly enjoyed my gift.  When she hinted that another one would be happily accepted, I decided to stop worrying about perfection. (OK, I actually never really worry about perfection).

Instead, I decided to live up to everyone’s expectations and label my preserves this way: Lynda’s less-than perfect-offerings, delivered with every good intention and made with love.

Lynda MacGibbon is transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column appears each Friday. Contact her at Follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.