Monday, June 7, 2010

Now THAT'S Strawberry!

OK, I admit it ... I'm not a big fan of raw strawberries.  Too crunchy, weak flavor, most picked before they're fully ripe.  The rainy weather we had at the start of strawberry season made both conventional and organic berries watery to boot.  But when you apply heat to strawberries a wonderful thing happens.  The excess moisture evaporates, the fruit softens, the flavor deepens.  A forgettable piece of fruit becomes memorable.

And one of the best ways to cook strawberries is to make them into jam.  It's so easy  - chop the berries, add some sugar, cook low and slow and BAM ... you've got homemade jam.  And oh, is it good.  And gorgeous.  Deep red.  The pure essence of the berry with in-your-face flavor.  If you've never made homemade jam, I encourage you to do it now, while strawberries are in the market.  You don't need special equipment (just a candy thermometer), you don't need to process jars in a water bath.  Just cook the fruit, put it in the fridge and use it every chance you get for two or three weeks, until it's gone.  On bread, over ice cream, in stuffed french toast, swirled into yogurt, folded into fresh berries, or just spooned right from the bowl into your mouth.  Yes, it's that good.

I make seasonal jams and marmalades at the restaurant, but I don't process them for long storage.  I  use them right away because I think the flavor is just so incredibly vibrant when they're freshly made.  They show up as components on plated desserts, like the meyer lemon marmalade I nestle next to poached sweet-tart rhubarb.  (By the way, there's rhubarb-ginger jam in those crepes, too!)

Or I use them to build flavor in a dessert like our strawberry crostata, which I served to our Follow the Chef market tour guests a couple weeks ago.  It's a rustic fruit tart that I make by smearing strawberry jam on a lovely, flaky tart dough, piling on some fresh cut-up berries and baking them.  No extra sugar on the fruit - that just creates more liquid, which I don't want.  The fruit softens in the heat of the oven, the bubbling fresh juices mingle with the jam ... it's strawberry, magnified.

If you'd like to try making jam, here's a recipe to get you started.

STRAWBERRY JAM (makes about 3 c)

2 lb strawberries, rinsed, green tops sliced off
2-1/2 c sugar
Juice of 1 lemon, strained

Use the best berries you can find - deeply colored, no white shoulders, preferably organic.  Cut the berries into chunks and put into a medium saucepan (use a pan big enough to contain any boil over that might occur while the fruit cooks).  Add the sugar and stir it in.  Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and put over medium-high heat.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.  Once the mixture comes to a full boil turn down the heat to medium and continue to cook at a slow boil, stirring every few minutes and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent the mixture from scorching.  As the jam cooks use the back of the spoon (or a potato masher) to break down the berries to get the texture you want.  Chunky or smooth - you decide.  Cook until the mixture thickens and the thermometer registers 220F. 

Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.  Set up an ice bath by putting ice into a large bowl, then nestling a smaller bowl into the ice.  Carefully pour the hot jam into the smaller bowl and let cool, stirring frequently to speed up the process.  When the jam is cool to the touch cover and refrigerate.  It'll keep for several weeks in the fridge.

That's all there is to it.  You're now the proud owner of fresh strawberry jam.  You can increase the recipe if you want - we usually do at least a double batch at the restaurant.  And, if you must, you can add flavorings ... vanilla, spices, whatever.  But for me, this jam is the perfect strawberry.


  1. I love jam. Haven't made much this spring yet due to the fruit being kinda blah so far. =P

  2. I know - this weather has not been kind to our usual fabulous spring fruit. But that's a great reason to make jam! Cook it down and concentrate the flavor :)