Mrs Beaten’s bitter jam

Jam. For some, it is a dream based on little more than hearsay. For the fortunate few, jam is the memory of distant places now lost forever and the kind of luxury never to be hoped for again.

There are fruits on the island, but they tend to be bitter. You can make something sweet through the exacting process of malting barley, but this is more likely to go for brewing than to jam. Further, malted barley jam doesn’t keep that well, tending to ferment or mutate after a few days. Mugging bees does not result in enough honey for anything complicated. Jam batches are seldom, secretive and quickly eaten, if anyone dares to try, and they are never as good as the remembered jam of distant, brighter days.

Mrs Beaten makes jam because it is right and proper to have jam with afternoon tea. Even if you are obliged to use a mollusc in place of a scone – grains being in short supply. Mrs Beaten puts the jam on the mollusc first, and then the cream. The cream is also in very short supply. No one ever joins her for afternoon tea, as she has no friends and if she did, would hardly want them inside her house with their dirty shoes and unkempt hems. She fears these imaginary people would judge her, for replacing scones with molluscs and in fairness, she is right about this.

Her current batch of jam is made from beetroot. It is sweeter than the bitter apples of the previous batch. Yesterday she crept out at dawn and left a jar discreetly on the doorstep of a certain gentleman. She has no idea if he has found or understood the gift. But who else would make him beetroot jam? Absentmindedly, she smears a teaspoon of the stuff onto the back of her hand, and not onto the limp flesh of the shellfish.

Gazing down in horror at this debauched action, she wonders fleetingly what it would be like to smear jam onto someone else. Mrs Beaten crushes the idea at once. It will not do! She almost believes that other people will somehow know she has had this dreadful thought. All she can do is eat the jam quickly, in the hopes of hiding the evidence.

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