Kevin West

Photo: Valerie Gordon

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The Jammer: Kevin West
When I was a boy, I spent summers on my grandparents' farm outside Knoxville, Tennessee. Those were Tom Sawyer summers—running around barefoot, picking fruit from the garden. I loved looking in Gran's pantry, at the jars of homemade jams and pickled beets she'd "put up." After my grandfather died, a developer turned the farmland into housing. It still pains me to think about that.

But a few years ago at a farmers' market in Santa Monica, I got carried away and bought a whole flat of strawberries. I had some notion of making strawberry shortcake for a dinner party. Then I remembered Gran's strawberry jam. I had never put up preserves before but thought, "Why not?" So I made my first batch—and it was disgusting. I hated the flavor and pectin texture, and I threw it away. Then I tried again; the memory of Gran's perfect, pristine jam goaded me on.

Making batch after batch of jam opened a connection to my past that had been dormant for years. What started as a hobby became an obsession. I've made jam every week and sometimes every day for the past two years. I give jars for birthdays, Christmas, thank-yous—any excuse to share it with friends.

A lot of kitchen work is lonely. But when I'm putting stuff up, it's the opposite of lonely. I sense I'm in the company of family memories. Those strawberries I bought on a lark feel like my destiny now. —As told to Margaret Rhodes