First fresh strawberry jam of the season
There are times during the year when if you wait, you miss out. So often life is fleeting, and never more so than with spring’s fresh produce – like fava beans (oops, you missed them!), certain stone fruits, spring garlic, scapes, spring onions, and…well you get the picture. Although strawberries don’t necessarily fit into this category, the perennial plant’s early presence seems to mark the transition from spring to summer, letting us know sweetness is on the way. Why do there seem to be strawberries all year long? There are three basic kinds of strawberry plants; June bearing, producing one crop; Everbearing, producing 2-3 crops; and Day Neutral, producing smaller fruit throughout the season.
Last weekend, I experimented with a couple of strawberry jams and my mother brought it to my attention that the batch that had more sun was tastier than the batch without sun. My first jam was a bit of a disaster, as it turned out not to be jam, but ended up being a delicious sauce that we spooned over our French toast in the morning, and ice cream at night. The next day it became the most luscious strawberry lemonade we have ever had. My son asked me to mess up another batch of strawberry jam so we could have more of the elixir.
If I owned a patent on strawberry jam, it would be my grandmother’s. Food memory being what it is, hers was best. She always had a few jars in her cupboard no matter the season. Her method of making jam was precise, allowing the pectin to thicken, with the sweet sticky fruit darkening as it cooked. She topped the jar with paraffin wax that helped seal in the goodness of the season and keep the air out. Knowing you had your own tasty, homemade items from the previous season was a gift.
Our warmer, sunnier weather will come, and with it, the most delicious fruits of the season, so enjoy them while you can: moment to moment.
This recipe is inspired by Ina Garten’s Strawberry Jam. For starters, the amount is just right, as it only makes two pints. My guess is you won’t buy store bought jam again. If it turns out a little runnier than you expected (like my first batch), don’t be afraid to keep it and use it over ice cream. Repeat recipe as your pantry supply demands.
Fresh Strawberry Jam
1 pints fresh organic strawberries, cut in half or quartered depending on size
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 cups sugar
Combining the sugar, zest, and lemon juice in a small saucepan, cook over low heat for 10 minutes or until the sugar is dissolved. Add the quartered strawberries and continue to cook over very low heat for about fifteen minutes, or until the strawberries release their juice and the mixture starts to gently boil. Cook until a small amount of the juice gels on a very cold plate, about 20 minutes. Pour carefully into two pint jars, seal or keep refrigerated. Use immediately or follow proper canning guidelines at www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/publications_usda.html.
Use only glass jars. Make sure they are not chipped or cracked. Using a lid that has a rubber seal, or two seals (glass and rubber), will form a vacuum seal when processed (processing is when you boil a jar in a water bath to form a suction; this takes air out of your jar and will help to keep your product safe for years).
There are a few ways to sterilize your canning jars. You can use your dishwasher, boil them in water for 15 minutes, or warm them in the oven for 25 minutes at 200 degrees. Then place the jars lid side up on a clean towel until ready to use. Use sterilized tongs when handling the hot jars and lids. After the jars are sterilized, you can preserve the food. As a rule, hot preserves go in hot jars and cold preserves go in cold jars. If you have any hesitation about safety, please follow canning instructions from the USDA guidelines above. Happy Jam-Making!
Tricia O’Brien writes the Vegetable of the Month column for the Oak Hill Farm newsletter and lives in Glen Ellen. You can visit and follow her blog at www.cafetrix.blogspot.com.