Tow Truck Pluk (Pluk van de Petteflet)

Definitely a book for all ages, Annie M.G. Schmidt’s Tow Truck Pluk has a special place in my heart: I was given the book to help me learn Dutch. It’s a kind of bizarre story about a boy that lives on his own, talks to animals and drives a tow truck strong enough to pull the world’s longest horse out of a canal. And he manages to save the local park and a rare bird by getting everyone giddy on a berry. Worth a read, don’t you think?

A touch of rebelliousness combined with honesty and good-heartedness can make for refreshing communication

There are two foods given special attention in the story: chips, made by the noisy, unruly Stamper children’s dad; and berry jam made by Mrs Brighton (Mevrouw Helderder in Dutch), a woman with the cleaning fetish. Mrs Brighton plucks kilos of the berries towards the end of the story and makes jars and jars of jam. She eats rather too much of it and ends up acting like a baby, playing with a rattle in a play pen and then, as the effects slowly wear off, drawing on the walls. She gets advised to restrict her consumption to just one spoonful a day – just enough for her to keep playing games with her daughter. Now I reckon, a spoonful of homemade jam could keep many people in a good mood if taken daily. Excellent medicine in fact (rather like Mary Poppin’s spoonful of sugar). So here’s a recipe for berry jam…


Berry Jam

1kg berries
Juice of 1 small lemon
1 kg granulated sugar
10g butter + an extra blob for coating the pan

You’ll need a large, heavy-bottomed pan. It should only be about half full when the sugar has been added as the jam needs space to be able to boil vigorously. Rub a small blob of butter over the bottom of the pan: this should help reduce foaming and prevent sticking.  Put the berries, lemon juice and sugar into the saucepan. The lemon juice will help the jam set if you’re using low-pectin fruits such as strawberries. Alternatively, you could use preserving sugar as it contains natural pectin, but I find lemon juice works just as well.

Briskly boil
Heat slowly, stirring all the time until the sugar has dissolved. Then bring the mixture to the boil and boil briskly for 10-15 minutes. This should be when setting point has been reached. It’s about 105°C on a sugar thermometer, but you can also test it by dropping a wee teaspoonful of jam onto a cold saucer and leaving it for a minute. Setting point has been reached when the surface sets and crinkles when pushed with the finger. (Don’t forget to take the jam off the heat while you’re doing the test, otherwise it could boil too rapidly and you’ll miss the setting point.)

Skum and skin
Once setting point has been reached, take the pan off the heat and stir in the butter. This will make the skum dissolve. Then leave the jam to cool off a little in the pan until a skin forms on the surface. Stir gently then pour carefully into clean jars. Fill the jars to the brim as the jam will shrink as it cools. Carefully wipe the rim clean with a hot, damp cloth and cover the jars while still very hot.

… she does normal things too, like vacuuming and washing up. But when she’s done, we play with the doll’s house. Or blow bubbles. And the living room looks so nice now with all the drawings on the wall.


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