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Jam session


Work has been kicking my butt the last couple of months, likewise DPaul, and so we’ve not had quite as much time nor inspiration in the kitchen as normal. But it is summer, and with such gorgeous fruit exploding in a riot of color and fragrance all over the farmers market each week, I find myself repeatedly returning with armloads of the stuff. I cannot help myself. The season for perfectly ripe summer fruits is so fleeting and ephemeral, I am always compelled to capture that moment in time and preserve it.

Preserve. Preserves. The act of taking that impeccable piece of fruit and locking it in stasis, like an ant encased in amber. I’m obsessed.

Luscious blackish bing cherries in three-pound bags, the farmer drowning in their abundance. Sweetly perfumed strawberries from Ella Bella. Coral-blushing Goldensweet apricots from Frog Hollow. I had to muster every ounce of restraint to keep from purchasing hundreds of pounds of the stuff.

For the last couple of years I’ve had a fixation with canning,
and both that and making preserves are relatively new additions to my
kitchen repertoire. DPaul grew up in a rural setting, where summer
every year meant putting up preserves and pickles. No one in my family
— on either side — as far as I know has put more effort into
preserves than twisting off a stubborn lid.

It’s not hard to see why. Last year’s cavalcade of canning
was exhausting, grueling work. But to this day, some nine months later,
we are still enjoying the fruits of our labor, smearing luscious pear butter and fig jam on our morning toast. We even have one, lone remaining jar of precious pumpkin butter. And no, you can’t have it.

Pitting three pounds of bing cherries turns your kitchen sink into a
crime scene. Hulling and cutting a half-flat of strawberries is a task
gleefully delegated to another set of hands in the kitchen. But prying
apart the fuzzy, orange-pink cheeks of ripe apricots, as soft and
tender as a baby’s bottom, is hedonism incarnate.

I dabbled in recipes, following David Lebovitz’s sage advice on a no-recipe cherry jam, and June Taylor‘s
method of extracting pectin from orange rinds. In all cases I wanted to
avoid adding pectin, desiring to use nature’s own ingredients to their
best effect.

Alas, I didn’t manage to get my jewel-toned jams to set quite as I’d hoped
— in fact, the first batch of strawberry preserves is best considered
a sauce (or, perhaps, foundation of a mostarda?)
— but I don’t mind. In fact, as my eyes rolled back in my head as I
swooned over a bowl of vanilla ice cream melding with strawberry goodness, I
didn’t mind at all.

One year ago today … I unveiled a watermelon vodka infusion, but found it lacking. But it was not without its merits — among the most common search terms that steer people to this site is "vodka watermelon infusion" or some permutation of those three words.

This Post Has 11 Comments
  1. Sean – I think it is great that you try to preserve. I think if not for the enthusiasm foodies, this would be a forgotten art. I LOVE that you made fig jam last year. A good friend makes a gorogeous compote from her bounty every year, though this year her tree has not been so prolific (lack of rain during Winter). I look forward to returning to the US next week until mid-September, during which time I can make the most of the farmers’ markets, scoop up gorgeous Californian fruit, and head to my partner’s home to make jam. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. I’m so impressed and very happy to be the recipient of some of the strawberry sauce/jam. Thanks again!

  3. Shaun: A friend of some friends of ours evidently has some fig trees that are exploding with fruit right now. I can hardly wait to get my hands on some of that. Fig jam is such a versatile thing to have around — it plays well with savory as well as sweet. And it’s pretty good by the spoonful.
    Kalyn: I hope you enjoy it!

  4. the set is important, but not crucial. at every stage, it is still fruit and’ll be delicious, no matter how it is set..
    recently, i just shoved strawberries and sugar into the oven..set at a very low temperature and let it cook for 2-3 days, switching it off now and is spreadable, but thickishly..and delicious. if i were to change anything, i’d reduce the sugar with this method because the strawberriness pops out and it would have been more pronounced without the sugar.

  5. It’s great to see more people getting into preserves. It looks like you have had better luck than me.
    I made a batch of strawberry preserves a few weeks ago, intending to make jam, and I too ended up with a sauce. A damn delicious sauce, just what I intended from the start…
    And on Sunday I tried to make apricot jam (a simple sugar + fruit variety), but because of my poorly functioning “doneness radar,” I overcooked it and seem to have apricot gelee or a Spanish-style fruit paste. It will probably be great with cheese, or perhaps stuffed in a chocolate truffle. A great thing about preserves is that I have a long time to think about it.

  6. As for the soft strawberry jam: you’ll have more natural pectin if you make sure about a quarter of the berries are a little under-ripe (white shoulders). Or you can use the French method — and not worry about pectin — and simply boil the syrup to a higher temperature. The American pectin method will usually set if the jam reaches 220 degrees F; for the French method, aim for something just under the softball stage: 236 degrees.
    The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook has two excellent (and easy) strawberry jam recipes, and both leave you with a gorgeous scarlet jam with whole berries.

  7. Part of the problem was that I couldn’t get the temperature high enough — and I have a serious stove. For some reason, I just couldn’t get up to 220ºF, coasting around 115-116º. I didn’t want to risk burning the sugar, so I pulled back a bit. I’ll be more aggressive next time. Thanks for the tips!

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