Thursday, June 20, 2013

Sitting plump and gorgeous

Jars cooling
While in the kitchen, I don't tend to think of my mother much. It has a lot to do, I think, with not having learned to cook from her. Growing up, I just didn't have much interest in it. So, in a lot of ways, when I did learn, I grew into a very different kind of cook from her, one with different rhythms, different appetites. And so now, between what I might make for dinner on any given night and what she might, there just isn't much overlap. If, when she calls, she asks me about what I had for dinner, it's more out of motherly concern. (I'm pretty sure she thinks I don't eat enough vegetables.) We don't talk much about what we've been cooking. And for me, at least, this is a bit of a sad state of affairs, if only because we both do a lot of cooking, and cooking, if for different reasons, is important to both of us.
But I thought of her while making this jam, and I'm sure to call her about it soon. See, my mother has never much cared for more traditional strawberry jams. She thinks that the fruit loses too much of itself in all that heat and violent bubbling over the stove. So, she makes a no-cook freezer jam for herself every year, one which calls just for crushed strawberries, sugar, liquid pectin, and a lot of stirring. But I think that she's been missing out all these years. Those strawberries could use a little bubbling action before making their way into jars. And that needn't mean annihilating them.
Three pints of strawberries Macerated berries Macerated berries close-up Strawberry jam
The jam I made comes from Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures. And, admittedly, the process is quite a bit fussier than most. But, it is worthwhile. (Ferber's known as the jam fairy of Alsace for a reason!) You first let the strawberries macerate in sugar overnight, drawing out their juices. In the morning, you strain the berries. The juice goes into a wide, heavy pot, along with the juice from some quickly cooked raspberries. And here's where it gets good. You let the juices bubble away on their own for a spell, until they reach 221 degrees F. And only then do you add those delicate berries, cooking them just until  they're translucent, jewel-like. Off heat, you stir in the final flourishes--a splash of good balsamic vinegar and a little black pepper.
This jam is really nothing like my mother's. Its flavours are big and resonant, and it tastes deeply, unmistakably of strawberries. The other ingredients--the raspberry juice, the balsamic vinegar, the black pepper--are really just there to heighten what's already present in the fruit. And most of the berries remain whole, sitting plump and gorgeous on your toast. It is wonderful, wonderful stuff. And I think it could change my mother's mind.
Strawberry jam on toast
By the way, the jam is pictured here with this bread, and while, I do like the bread a lot, I think this particular jam needs something a little more refined to carry it--something with a delicate crumb, maybe a little sweetness to it, and no pesky seeds or bran. My guess is that the jam would also pair well with ricotta. But what I'm really looking forward to is trying it with a little cheese after dinner, maybe some sort of salty, firm goat's cheese.

Strawberry Preserves with Raspberry Juice and Balsamic Vinegar 
Adapted, just a little, from Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures via Lindsey's Luscious
NOTE: Timing and yield. I cooked my jam once the berries were in for probably an additional 12 minutes--I don't think I quite let the liquid prior to that reach 221 degrees F. My mistake. This might explain why I got more like 2 pints out of my berries instead of 2 1/2. I might also just have skimmed too eagerly throughout. Jars. This was my first time canning with Weck jars, those lovely German-made jars with glass lids, rubber rings, and clips. I followed Marisa McClellan's very clear instructions.

790 g / 1 3/4 lb strawberries (680 g / 1 1/2 lb net), the smallest, most fragrant you can find
800 g / 4 1/4 cups granulated sugar
Juice of 1 small lemon
565 g / 1 1/4 lb raspberries, preferably fresh but frozen will do
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, your best
5 peppercorns, freshly ground

Rinse the strawberries sparingly in cold water. You don't want to waterlog them. Dry them gently with a towel and then stem and halve them (quarter the largest ones, leave the tiniest whole).
In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Cover the bowl with a sheet of parchment and place in the refrigerator to macerate overnight.
The next day, place the raspberries in a small saucepan with 100 ml / 3 1/2 oz water and bring to a boil. Cook for a few minutes, until the berries break down. Pour the berries into a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl to collect their juices, pressing on the fruit with the back of a spoon lightly. Discard the raspberry pulp.
Set a small plate in the freezer. Place the raspberry juice in a large, wide, heavy-bottomed pot (or a preserving pan, if you have one). Strain the strawberry juice (with a clean sieve) into the same pot and set the fruit aside. (Some of the sugar may not have dissolved. Not to worry--just try to get most of it into the pot with the juice.) Bring the juices to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim any foam that bubbles up. This will make for a clearer jam. Cook until it reaches 221 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 10-15 minutes. Then add the macerated strawberries and return to a boil. Skim again, as needed, and don't leave the pot unattended--this jam really bubbles up. Cook for about five minutes more, stirring gently and frequently.
Check to see if the jam is set. Spoon a small amount on the cold plate from the freezer. Return the plate to the freezer for 1 minute. Try pushing the jam with your finger. If the surface wrinkles a little, the jam is ready. (I left my jam on the loose side, which I think really works in this case.) If not, continue cooking for a few more minutes and repeat the test. Remove the jam from heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar and black pepper. Ladle the jam into sterilized jars, leaving a 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe the jars' rims clean and put on their lids and bands.
Process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes (count 10 minutes from when the water returns to a boil). Remove the jars from the water and let cool. Check to see if a proper seal has formed by removing each jar's band and holding the jar by its lid. The lid should hold firm. If it doesn't, store the jar in the fridge and eat its contents promptly.
Makes about 5 1/2-pint jars.


  1. Does your mom read your blog? I feel like my mom has never really been that into cooking, but she always reads my blog and asks me "so, what's for dinner?" whenever she calls just because she's always looking for excuses to talk to any of her kids, haha.

    Unfortunately since I've got some weird aversion to berries, my favorite type of strawberry jam is the annihilated version. Usually when I see big berry chunks I just try to avoid them. This really does sound like a gorgeous technique, though. And really, who am I kidding? I'd probably love to eat this on some warmed toast for breakfast. That oatmeal sandwich bread recipe-- do you make it often?

    1. No, I don't think she really knows what a blog is! She's not very computer-savvy.

      To be quite honest, strawberry jam has never particularly been a favourite of mine. I am usually much more of a raspberry jam kind of girl. But last summer while staying with some friends in Canada, we ate some really nice cheese along with homemade strawberry preserves. I say 'preserves' rather than 'jam' because they were really more like whole tiny strawberries in thick syrup than something spreadable. It was a revelation. So, I wanted to make something similar for myself this summer.

      I don't make the oatmeal bread often, but I do when I think I might need to slap a few quick sandwiches together and feel like something with more whole-grain content. It's very good toasted, and you can taste that butter. Mine here looks a little different from Molly's because I divided the dough between two small loaf pans instead of making one big, exuberant loaf.

  2. Oh, this sounds wonderful! I've had "Mes Confitures" on my cookbook wish list for a while now (this list is ridiculously long); I find the process of preserving to be incredibly soothing; it makes me feel prepared for anything.

    I also didn't really get into cooking until much later and cook very differently from my family. I sometimes feel sad that I privilege recipes from cookbooks and blogs more than those that were a part of my childhood memories, although this is not to say that I don't sometimes get a craving for the tastes of home. Ultimately, I think that how you cook is not only a reflection of personal taste, but of location and experience as well. It's possible that both NYC and California have spoiled me for life. :)

    1. I don't own Mes Confitures yet, but having made this jam, I will certainly have to soon!

      The thing is, I don't really know how to cook the sort of stuff my mother does for dinner. Most of it isn't very involved or anything, but the techniques and timing are a bit of a mystery to me. I don't really know why I've let things be this way for so long. But, I think you're definitely right about location. My mother is always encouraging me to eat more fish, but qualms about by-catch and fish-farming aside, it just doesn't seem to be very sensible to be eating a lot of fish when you're in the midwest. Anyway, I'm sure that California does spoil a girl!

  3. I love to make jams and jellies. I find it a particularly satisfying pastime,especially when, in the chill of winter, I can open a jar of summer fruit.

    This is my first visit to your very lovely site, and I will be a regular visitor.

  4. Lovely your preserves, beautiful pictures! I just made some blueberry jam tonight with my last blueberries.. can't wait to spread it on some toast. :)