— The jewels of the garden. Somebody else’s garden. —
I am not a strawberry person. My tastes run toward the more exotic fruit. The eyebrow-raisers like black currants and damson plums. The exotics I couldn’t possibly grow here like Lychee and loquat.
I started a tiny patch of strawberry at one point, with some of the overflow plants from Wayne’s down the road. But I was a terrible mother to those little suckers. I just stuck them in with the grass at the outer edge of the garden and thought I’d wait to see what would happen. Here’s what happened; the grass won, as grass always does, and that was the end of my strawberry-growing career.
But I do have a soft spot for strawberry jam. Nothing conjures up images of childlike wonder more than strawberry jam spread lavishly on soft white bread. So when Keith came over and told me he could set me up with a whole mess o’ strawberries, I was in. As you know, Keith’s inside track is always to be trusted. Trusted. And trusted. And this was Keith’s personal stash.
— Keith loves his strawberry patch and it loves him back. —
— Jewels can be found everywhere. —
— Enough for jam? —
Meanwhile, as I was preparing to make my strawberry jam; my mom visited.
And along with my mom came my dad. Along with the two of them came the Lasners. Along with the Lasners came the Kushners (yes, the Kushners of Burning Man fame.) And along with the Kushners came this:
— Oops. —
The scene was quite chaotic out in front of The Muddy Kitchen. What to do about the pretty dead bird, who to do it, how and with what, where, when?
— Lou steps up. —
It was Louis himself who emerged from the crowd like Katniss Everdeen with a pair of field gloves.
— When in the country, bring gloves. —
Okay, then it was over.
So, back to my strawberry jam.
— Hulling strawberries is a heck of a lot easier than cherry pitting. —
My jam guru is Rachel Saunders and her book of impeccable recipes – The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook – is an absolute must-have. If you follow Rachel’s recipes to the letter, you will have perfect jam every time. I, of course, don’t, but my interpretive jam often still comes out pretty yummy. The addition of liquor always turns something originally made for kids into a swoon-worthy treat for grown-ups too! But don’t worry – the peanut butter and Wonder Bread won’t mind.
— Is it jam without the lemon juice? –
— Call me old-fashioned, but sugar is the most magical ingredient to cook with. —
— Magic in the making. —
— Grand Marnier + honey + whiskey = Drambuie? Sure it does. —
INTERPRETIVE STRAWBERRY JAM (Thank you again, Rachel Saunders!)
3 lbs 14 oz hulled strawberries
2 ½ lbs white cane sugar
4 oz plus 2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 ½ oz Grand Marnier + 1 dash of vanilla + bit of honey + dash of whiskey (Saunder’s recipe calls for Drambuie, but who in the world happens to have a bottle Drambuie lying around? I read the ingredients in Drambuie and winged it.)
Put 5 teaspoons in the freezer before you begin. Combine the strawberries with 4 oz of the lemon juice in a 12 quart pot. Turn up the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring constantly. After a few minutes, as the mixture begins foaming a little around the edges, gradually raise heat to high, stirring often.
Boil for approximately 20-30 minutes, gently scraping the bottom every few minutes. Like with all jams, the mixture starts to get a darker, shinier look as you go. In other words, it starts to look more like jam! It takes approximately 25 minutes.
Turn off heat and let things settle just a bit. Take all the foamy junk off the top with a spoon. Add the Grand Marnier + dash of vanilla + bit of honey + dash of whiskey (or Drambuie, if you’re one of those people who has it hanging about). Return to medium heat and cook, stirring frequently. If necessary, gradually lower the heat to prevent scorching.
After a few minutes of bubbling, the jam should again look glassy and dark. To test for doneness the Rachel Saunders way, “remove the jam from heat and take a small representative half-spoonful (one containing both the liquid and the more solid portions of the mixture) and carefully transfer it onto one of your frozen spoons. Replace the cold spoon in the freezer for 1-2 minutes.”
When you take the spoon out from the freezer, it should be the consistency of jam…not too watery. Strawberries take a little longer to get to this ‘jam-state’ than most fruits. Don’t skimp on the last few minutes of cooking. Nobody likes watery strawberry jam!
Pour into jars sterilized according to manufacturer’s instructions, process for canning or store in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.
— For grown-ups too. —
Take your boots off before you come in here!