Life

An Attempt To Recreate Eddie Vedder’s Great-Grandma’s ‘Pearl Jam’


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Rock stars and myths go hand-in-hand. This is especially true when it comes to how they name their bands. Led Zepplin misspelled “lead,” because they feared Americans would mispronounce it. Velvet Underground’s name came from a porn mag one of its members found in the gutter. The Pixies supposedly flipped to a random page in the dictionary.

There are lots of these. But my favorite of them all comes from my hometown of Seattle and the now-legendary Pearl Jam.

Back in 1991, when Pearl Jam was on the cusp of dominating rock, Eddie Vedder gave an interview to Rolling Stone wherein he laid the foundations for a little rock’n’roll myth — or a helping of total bullshit if you’re more jaded — about how the band got their name. In the nearly 30 years since, the band’s name has been debated by fans, refuted, and mythologized into something it most likely is not.

Still, as John Ford once sagely surmised about Americana, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

THE LEGEND

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This all started with Eddie Vedder being a young daredevil in Seattle, back in ’91. While he was in the midst of an interview with Rolling Stone writer Kim Neely, the Cheshire cat-like Vedder began showing signs of his nascent disregard for gravity and famously — and maybe a little foolishly — mused about climbing through the barriers on the Seattle Space Needle to walk out on a beam and steal a single lightbulb.

Luckily (for all parties), Vedder thought better of this move. He and Neely moved on. Once back on the ground, the conversation invariably turned to how the then one-year-old band came up with its name.

“Great-grandpa was an Indian and totally into hallucinogenics and peyote,” Vedder told Neely in ’91. “Great-grandma, Pearl, used to make this hallucinogenic preserve that there’s total stories about. We don’t have the recipe, though.”

Before we dive down the rabbit hole of whether this is true or not, let’s get a little context. Vedder was 27-year-old kid thrust into the limelight of rock’n’roll. There was no access to the internet, no smartphones, just your own special brand of horseshit you passed off to get a rise out of rock journos or to make yourself sound that little bit cooler… probably because you thought it was funny. Cobain used to claim he lived under a bridge even though there’s no proof of that ever happening. It was simply a thing he said that helped bolster the myth of “Kurdt.”

I have to note here that this was a different time. A time when call-out culture was barely a speck on the distant horizon. So let’s not waste space with retroactively scolding 20-year-olds on the shit they made up to sound cool in the early ’90s just to make ourselves sound cool in the late 2010s. Still, over the years there’s been a lot of speculation as to whether Vedder’s peyote jam recipe actually held any water.

The myth seems to have been busted entirely by fellow band member Jeff Ament in another Rolling Stone interview with Brian Hiatt back in 2006. The band was seemingly making their first big comeback and were pretty candid about where they were as people after 15 years of rock stardom. Hiatt writes, “His great-grandma really was named Pearl. The rest is, indeed, ‘total bullshit.'”

Vedder had seemingly recanted the old story much to the relief of his fellow bandmates. Hiatt goes on the report that Ament came up with ‘pearl’ while the band was brainstorming names in Seattle. Then on their way to sign with Epic Records in New York, Ament, Vedder, and Stone Gossard went to a Neil Young show. Young jammed out nine songs in three hours. After that Neil Young concert, ‘jam’ was added to ‘pearl.’ And that’s that.

To be honest, I prefer the legend.

MAKING ‘PEARL JAM’

Zach Johnston

As an Indigenous American living in Berlin, I have access to a lot of peyote. It’s legally sold at garden shops across Europe, and I’m also Native, so I can legally use it in the United States.

I’ve always wanted to make “pearl jam” as a sort of honorific to the band I grew up adoring (Ten dropped when I was 12, the age when a music listener steps out of the shadows of parental music tastes) and I do love the story behind the jam. Even if it is “total bullshit” (or, worse yet, a sly reference to cum).

So I gathered some peyote and decided it was time to make some jam. I went in with no idea how it would taste, but that only increased my excitement.

First, a little understanding on what peyote is. I’ve taken this hallucinogen about a dozen times throughout my life. So I’m fairly confident in its effects on me. This is a drug I use for therapeutic introspection and psychoanalytical self-reflection. That doesn’t mean that’s what it will be for you. I do not recommend you ever take this on your own. I can’t stress this enough. Peyote contains mescaline. Magic mushrooms contain psilocybin. So, even though both produce hallucinations, they are very, very different beasts. Nor should this be confused with lysergic acid diethylamide or LSD. Mushrooms and LSD are, for the most part, a social or extroverted intoxicant. Peyote is more introspective and multi-dimensional.

Please, consume this hallucinogen responsibly and with a veteran guide for your trip.

Zach Johnston

To make pearl jam, I decided to use an old green chile jam recipe. The first step was harvesting the peyote. I used a medium-sized and very sharp pocket knife to cut the buds as close to the soil line as possible. You should definitely wear gloves when you do this, as these cacti are juicy. Also, protip, don’t throw away the cut cacti. They’ll scab over and grow back. It’ll take five or so years, but they will be harvestable again.

Next, I place the buds cut-side-up on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. I turn my oven onto the lowest setting and place the buds into the oven for about 30 minutes. You want to dry the cacti out to concentrate the mescaline alkaloids.

Zach Johnston

The next step is pretty easy. I cut the buds into strips (again, wearing protective gloves) and placed them in a small saucepan with one cup of fresh, clear organic apple juice. I brought that to a simmer for at least 15 minutes — you really want to give it time to infuse into the juice. The cacti should turn a very dark green as they infuse and concentrate.

At this point, I added one-half cup of a mix of refined sugar and jam gelatin (I used one part white sugar to two parts powdered gelatin). I keep stirring until the jam starts to stiffen and — oh, fuck, I just licked the spoon to taste the jam out of habit. Don’t do that!

Anyway, the juice should take on the consistency of a thin maple syrup.

Zach Johnston

Once the jam had thickened a bit, I pulled a small jar with a pop lid out of a pot of boiling water (it needs to be sterilized to can properly). I filled the jar with my pearl jam and let it settle for about 5 minutes. Then I put on the lid and plunged the jar into boiling water for ten minutes to let the jar seal.

Afterward, I removed the jar and allowed it to cool. This is when the jelly set.

Zach Johnston

Since the jars are sealed, you can save this jam for at least a year. Though, be very smart about where you store it. You don’t want to accidentally jam some toast on a random Tuesday before work. In reality, the jam is very bitter and you’d know the taste immediately, but in the wise words of Sturgill Simpson, hallucinogens are “not to be trifled with.

The recipe should yield two strong doses that’ll let you meet God. You can also split it into four doses that’ll keep you more grounded but still offer some intense experiences.

If you try this, really do try to be smart and responsible. Me and Eddie will see you in the multiverse.

Zach Johnston
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