This week I tried canning for the first time. It was exciting for me as I had seen my grandmother canning jams, pickles and more when I was a kid but did not have an opportunity to learn from her. After much consideration I decided my first attempt would be to make raspberry jam. With careful planning I read as much as I could about canning and at least 20 different recipes. I was surprised by all the different approaches and the numerous tidbits of advice provided regarding pectin vs sugar, freezer jam vs boiled jam, sterilization techniques, boiling times by altitude, and general references to “this works” and “this doesn’t work”.
My gut response to all the advice I was reading was interesting to me, particularly the advice on using pectin. After reading much advice on simply using pectin to make canning quicker and easier, I was convinced NOT to use it. Subconsciously the advice made me want to try the more challenging technique even more. For those who have not canned before I will elaborate on the pectin debate. Pectin is naturally occurring in fruit although some fruits contain very low amounts and this can affect how well the jam “jells”. To increase the chances of ensuring your jam “jells” every time, many recipes simply use a pectin additive which is extracted from apples. Many folks debate whether the pectin affects the flavour of the jam and whether the old fashion approach to making jams is more natural.
Despite all of the advice that pectin would make my canning experience more enjoyable, I ended up determined to try making my jam without the pectin additive. I was delighted to find my jam “jelled” just perfectly and the end result was fantastic! Mmmmm homemade jam.
Next I moved onto raspberry-blueberry, raspberry-rhubarb, and strawberry recipes. Along the way I found I stumbled into several traps and challenges that I had read about in my early preparation. The strawberry jam was the most challenging. From early on it foamed up like crazy, something I read about and heard you should use butter to prevent. Did I do that though? Nope, I wanted to see what would happen for myself. Next, I had to boil it for a very long time to achieve the “jelling”. Yep, there were lots of warnings about this too and recommendations to just use pectin with this particular fruit. Of course I skipped that “sage old advice” and stuck to my goal of using no additives.
Stubborn you might say? Perhaps, I was being stubborn but I think it is a more a matter of needing to learn things first hand. Seeing something for yourself is very different than trying to glean the insight from someone else. As children we are the same way. How many times do you tell your child not to do something and they just can’t stop themselves from doing it anyways! There is so much to be gained from the experience of trying something even if the end result is not what you were hoping for.
The same message is true in software testing. However, I often find that courses, conferences, coaching sessions, and even collegial conversations to be filled with advice on how to avoid pitfalls, traps and difficult situations. While this advice is valuable insight, at the end of the day many people are likely to employ the very approaches, techniques and tools they may have been cautioned to avoid.
A recent experience rings very true to this for me. Over 10 years of my experience in IT has been on traditional software projects with several of those being large, enterprise wide initiatives. When a good friend of mine accepted a role on a very large project, my head filled with warnings and mine fields to share. As the project got underway my friend and I shared numerous conversations, discussing insight based on my experience on similar projects. However, as the months passed my friend found herself in many of the mine fields as I had warned her of, and as can be expected, had stumbled across a fair number of new ones too.
We have talked about how the project unfolded many times and it has been interesting discussing the insights that can only be gained by experiencing something for yourself. Sometimes in the moment of success or failure you hear a distant voice reminding you that things might happen this way. I had this exact moment when my strawberry jam began foaming like crazy! My memory was triggered and I tried to recall all the tips and tricks I had read about. In the end I tried a few different ideas, a combination of sage advice and my own ideas, and the jam turned out wonderfully. Along the way I gained insight into the advice I had read about but more importantly gained first hand experience into why “this works” and “this doesn’t work”.
“If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.” – Mark Twain