Monday, July 19, 2010

Preserving Summer

Originally uploaded by Simon Gate

Many Northern European languages have compound words for strawberry jam. In Swedish (as we see in this photo from Simon Gate on flickr) it is "jordgubbssylt." The other Scandinavian languages are similar with the Norwegian "jordbærsyltem," the "refined" Danish "jordbærsyltetøj" and the decidedly Scando-archaic and non-compound Icelandic "jarðarber sultu."

Moving south, the Dutch offer us something closer to English with "aardbeienjam." The "jam" figuring prominently in that construction rather than the Scandinavian "sylt." The Germans take a decidedly European spin on Strawberry Jam by offering "Erdbeermarmelade" which, as you can see, is closely related to the Dutch in the "Erd" part, but take a decidedly Spanish spin by calling "jam" "marmelade." Many of the the southern Romance languages, you see, call any kind of jam a marmalade. Witness, Spanish: "mermelada de fresa,"

The French and the Italians are much more fancy in their naming of strawberry jam. The French say "confiture de fraises," and the Italians offer us "confettura di fragole." If you pretend you can speak either French or Italian, both of those phrases sound particularly high class and extra-sweet. Champagne comes to mind. Somehow I think the common folk of France and Italy have another word for strawberry jam that the official dictionaries compiles by snoots and even snootier snoots would have us see. You can sort of see that in the Spanish version of strawberry jam, mermelada de fresa, although it is still too uncompound. The Portuguese offer us "geléia de morango." While "morango" relates to the Basque/Finnish/Estonian Marrubizko/mansikka/maasikas, it still insists on making strawberry jam as a process, rather than a product.

Sure they all call the berry something unique, but only a few languages call the thing a compound thing "jordgubbssylt." Is one thing. "Strawberry jam" is two things.



What is my point?

Look at it this way: Northern climes experience about two months of summer at best. You have just a few weeks to collect and preserve those precious summer berries like strawberries. Those fruit are rare. The come and then go as equally as fast. No forgiveness for missing them.

So what do you do as a resourceful human? You find a way of preserving them. For berries, funny enough, it means putting them in more sugar, I've heard that sugar is, despite its smashing nutritional value, a remarkable preservative and antibiotic. Like our friend salt, bacteria can't seem to do much with food items preserved in desiccated sugar.

This is why we have ham.

This is why beehives survive unmolested by bacteria.

As you can see, the English word for "jam" is much more closely related to Dutch. The Dutch, however, kept their term for strawberry jam to be one word.

Strawberry is a lovely word.

Strawberry Jam. Imagine that.

1 comment:

  1. are you making jam this summer? I am thinking of getting a big bunch of the last of the apricots and making jam--to me, there's no more concentrated way to taste summer than jam, if you make it right and not too sweet (though you're absolutely right about the preservative qualities of sugar--the less sugar, the less staying power your jam has).