Finding the Tastes of Summer During Winter
When the dreary days of winter set in and you long for the wonderful vegetables of spring and summer, what can you do? You can go to the grocery store and purchase some flavorless tomatoes, some uninteresting cucumbers, some anemic strawberries and forget about finding okra and figs.
Or instead you can crack open a jar of canned tomatoes and make a sauce, dig into some crunchy pickles and okra, cut a slice of fresh-baked bread and slather it with fig preserves, or — even better still — with strawberry jam you made the summer before.
Summer means strawberries. Well, and peaches and don’t forget the figs and tomatoes and squash and beans, and black-eyed peas, melons of all sorts, and sweet corn — the list goes on. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, that bounty will lead to excess and you can put that excess to work providing a little treat during dreary weather and allowing you to get excited about what the spring will bring.
My favorite summer treats are strawberries. My home garden doesn’t provide us with much extra, so every couple of years, we find some good ones and load up. We’ll eat them sliced for dessert, make a really good ice cream and, of course, we’ll put up a few jars of jam.
Learning from Grandmother’s Strawberry Preserves
Three years ago, my cousin emailed me a handful of recipes from my grandmother. They were scanned copies of the recipe cards from her recipe box. In the collection was a recipe for Strawberry Preserves.
Grandmother was a pretty good cook, but I don’t remember her making jam. I do remember the oddly unlabeled jars that sat on the table every day for breakfast, right next to the butter that she never put in fridge. When you put the two of them on a biscuit, it was amazing.
Grandmother’s recipe for Strawberry Preserves was 1 cup of water, 4 cups of sugar and two cups of strawberries. That’s it. After the ingredients, there were a few vague instructions: Cook half the sugar in the water until it threads, add the berries, boil 10 minutes, add the rest of the sugar, boil 10 more minutes, then pour it into a dish to “plumb” overnight. I have never figured out what “plumb” meant in this context. That was all I needed. I had the inspiration for a little preservation and gave her recipe a little resurrection.
Trial and Error Making Strawberry Preserves
Instead of preserves, I made a batch of strawberry candy — a sticky, gooey mess of near-solid strawberry candy. Turns out that whole thread step was a little trickier than I thought. In attempt number two, the opposite happened and the jam failed to set up right.
It looked like it was time to figure out what went wrong. I researched a few books, checked out the Interwebz, and, of course, looked through Mother Earth News to find some answers. I was looking for a simpler recipe with better results (and maybe a little more descriptive instructions).
I came to the conclusion that, a) My thermometer wasn’t any good (more on that some other time), and b) The addition of pectin would help.
So, I fashioned a new recipe based on the one from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, and the results were excellent: dark red, great texture, sweet, yet very strawberry, with nice chunks of fruit in it. Put that on some fresh-baked sourdough bread and bam! Peanut butter need not apply.
Strawberry Jam Recipe
Yields 10 1/2-pint jars
• 5 cups hulled and crushed strawberries
• 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• 1.75 ounces pectin
• 7 cups sugar
1. Bring a large pot (12-16 quarts) of water to a boil. Sanitize jars and prepare the lids and rings.
2. Add the strawberries and lemon juice to a large sauce pan/dutch oven. Turn on the heat.
3. Add the pectin and whisk to dissolve.
4. Stir constantly and bring to a boil.
5. Add the sugar all at once, stirring constantly, and return to a full boil. After it is at 220 degrees F, stir for 1 more minute. Remove from the heat. Skim off foam.
6. Working quickly, fill the jars to within 1/2-inch of the top of the jar. Remove air bubbles with plastic spatula.
7. Wipe jar rims and threads clean. Add hot lids (do not boil) and hand tighten bands.
8. Load up your canning pot, making sure the jars are covered in water. Cover, return to a boil and process for 10 minutes.
9. Turn off heat. Remove pot lid. Let stand for 5 minutes.
10. Carefully remove jars, without tilting, from the water bath to a wood cutting board on counter. Let cool undisturbed overnight.
11. After 24 hours, check the lids to make sure they are sealed. Remove the rings if you like, I don’t. A properly sealed lid will be concave, curved downward, and will not move when pressed. If the lid moves, either refrigerate it or reprocess the jar using a new lid. I would refrigerate it and enjoy it immediately.
12. Label the jars and store in a cool, dark and dry location.
13. Enjoy! As a jam, this is ready to eat immediately.
Photo by Jennifer Hudson
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