We love to complain that summer passes too quickly, but rarely do we stop to capture moments that make it so special. Even in the age of selfies, the longing to stop and savor persists. Summer's arrival inspires me to cook up the aromas I know will trigger a deep pleasure response. My favorite vehicle for this journey? A small batch of seasonal fruit jam.
Although strawberries appear in the grocery while there’s still snow on the ground, I wait until fragrant berries arrive at the local farmers’ markets in June to start the preserving season. Their sweet, woodland scent inspires me to plan the thirty minute window I will need to prepare and cook them. One bite of homemade jam on warm bread will make me feel like I’m eight again, wandering barefoot in my grandmother's wooded Kentucky backyard, searching for berries under the bushes, stepping over rocks and swatting mosquitos.
You might think that my two cookbooks on fruit preserving would make me very precise about the process. To the contrary, experience has made me cavalier about following recipes, even my own. Each season I start anew, taking advantage of shortcuts I’ve developed over the years. The freshest taste rather than technical perfection is my goal. Let me walk you through a recent jam session in my kitchen:
I rinsed and hulled one pound of strawberries, halved or quartered them so they were all the same size and tossed them with two tablespoons of sugar. They came to a simmer over low heat in a heavy three quart saucepan. No water was added. As the heat softened the berry pieces, the sugar helped draw out the juices.
When there was enough liquid for the mixture to simmer, I let the fruit cook for ten minutes. I added one tablespoon fresh lemon juice and two tablespoons sugar. The lemon juice accentuated the flavor of the berries; the additional sugar kept the jam on the sweet side. After a minute or two on medium heat, when fruit juices had concentrated and the pan was almost dry, I turned off the heat. The process had taken thirty minutes.
I poured the resulting one-and-one-half cups of jam into a glass Parfait jar to cool on a rack before snapping on a plastic lid and storing it in the refrigerator. There is no need to vacuum seal a refrigerated jam. It will stay fresh tasting for two weeks or more, preserved in the cold by sugar and by the natural acidity in the fruit and lemon juice.
The less than a week, jar of jam at the top of the story is almost gone. It’s been enjoyed as a topping on toast, pancakes, yogurt and simply on a spoon. When the jar is empty, I will cook a pound of blueberries with sprigs of fresh mint. There is a lot more of summer to capture in a jar.
Print versions of Gourmet Preserves Chez Madelaine are available at www. amazon.com. Hardback from 1984 and paperback from 2004.
Gourmet Preserves is also available as an epdf and ebook at www.agatepublishing..com