Saturday, November 28, 2015

Jam with story by James Eaton

Homemade pomegranate jam by a friend - Oil on canvas board 8" X 6"

By James Eaton
The strong, tart odor of pomegranate jam filled the kitchen, marking a solitary moment for a solitary man, alone in 
the dark and sitting at the end of a long wood table. This was his second meal, just hours after a formal family 
dinner of lamb, eggplant, and dry red wine. It had been a large gathering and included aunts and uncles, siblings 
and cousins, the parish priest and several elderly friends. But now, it was quiet. The kitchen was scrubbed and 
clean. The house was still, but tonight, everyone was alone.

Abel Danielian was tired of conversation and accommodating others. His mood was restive. He preferred to sit at the 
edge of table, outside the harsh pool of ceiling light focused on the open jar. Sitting alone, where darkness 
illuminates memory and moments mingle in the pensive repose of quiet thought, he addressed a plate of cold lamb 
and the tart pomegranate jam combining to bring a sad peace. He was no longer a grandchild visiting the old home 
on a holiday. On the day of his grandmother’s funeral, this was a moment of maturity.

Since moving away, he didn’t eat lamb often and never tasted the pomegranate jam now accenting the strangeness 
of being once again enshrouded by ancient familiar surroundings. A gathering of extended family, grown to 
adulthood, in their grandmother’s home, was pungent, tart, and not an entirely sweet event. Egos were on display 
and old fires reignited. The jar containing the jam reflected the moment like a crystal of indeterminate value 
refracting the overhead light brightly illuminating the table, but quickly surrendering to the gathering darkness at 
the table’s edge. Refracting glass and translucent jam turned into an ambiguous red and purple jewel of light and 
dark, like an uncut ruby waiting for the jeweler’s hand.

Earlier in the day, before the family meal, he was dispatched, like a small boy on an errand, to the old musty cellar to 
bring up the last bottles of pomegranate jam for the table. The cellar stairs strained under the weight of a grown 
man. He could tell his aging grandmother had not been in the disorderly cellar for a long time. The cold smell of 
earth and mildew grew stronger as he descended ten poorly lit stairs leading into the darkness. The stonewalls were 
damp and the wood stairs and shelves decayed. The old coal shuttle opening to the outside at ground level had 
leaked rain and snow for years, accelerating a quiet deterioration of wood and nail. Turning on a flashlight, he 
could see a dozen jars of various jams with single white labels marking the contents of each shelf. On each label, 
hand written in Armenian, was the name of the jam. Not speaking the language of his grandmother, he didn’t 
know which jar contained pomegranate jam, so he brought up three jars, each from different shelves, hoping one 
was pomegranate jam. Offering the jars to his mother, she held each to the bright kitchen light, nodding “yes”, the 
third jar was the one.

Pomegranate jam has a suppressed sweetness, with a cranberry overtone. It is a mature flavor, offering a dark 
pungent rush followed by a tart, vinegar after taste. More a nectar, pomegranate jam is not for bread; it is a 
condiment for beef or lamb. Derived from a thickened juice, pomegranate jam is made in the late fall or early winter. 
Reserved for ceremonial and family events, its flavor is reminiscent of more than meals, it is part of a tradition 
stretching back generations through Southern Europe, the Middle East and Persia. More than jam, it possesses the 
taste and smell of a different place and a now past generation.

With the clumsiness of a man alone in the kitchen, he left a trail of dribbled jam on the table. A woman would be 
more careful, not trickling the valuable nectar, but a man, less subtle, scoops deeply with a knife, leaving too much 
jam on the blade, trailing jam like sacred blood from the jar to the plate. Now, sitting alone in the kitchen, having 
finished his solitary meal, he could hear a train several miles away, making its way up the grade along the tracks by 
the river. The chilly night air was heavy with moisture and sounds traveled great distances like a lonely muted siren 
calling men to memory. A clock on the wall ticketed off the minutes with a soft click and the refrigerator cycled 
down and grew quiet.

“Getting something to eat,” the voice of his mother yawned from behind as she entered the room. She wore an old 
comfortable pink bathrobe and thin blue slippers.

“I woke you?” Abel turned to see her enter the room and sit down next to him at the edge of the light circling the 

“I could smell the jam from the bedroom. Grama used to squeeze the pomegranates by hand to make the juice, then 
she simmered it with vinegar and sugar.” She lifted the open jar to her nose and inhaled deeply. “I could always 
smell this, anywhere in the house, when she opened a jar.”

The two figures were alone in the kitchen for a quiet moment, each looking at the open jar of pomegranate jam. “I 
will miss this place. I will miss pomegranate jam,” he said with the halting sadness of a small boy at his first 

“Yes, we’ll all miss the house,” she said looking around the kitchen. “But I’ll make pomegranate jam next year for 
the holidays.”

He looked at her from the corner of his eyes, and then back to his plate.

“And I’ll teach that Mormon girlfriend of yours to make it too.” She looked at her son with a tired, reassuring smile.

The mother and son sat quietly alone in the dark kitchen for a minute while the old clock ticked softly. In the 
distance, both could hear the straining train arrive at the top of the grade and begin its acceleration on the tracks 
out of town. – Jim Eaton

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