Monday, August 22, 2011

Strawberry Jam

When I think of jam, I think of my dad. With gusto, he would slather on strawberry jam on white bread (which he prefers over whole wheat) either for breakfast or sometimes as a late-night snack. Jam covered every nook and cranny of the toast, instead of seeing a golden border of bread around the red jelly, you would see, well, only the red jelly. There was also evidence of his messy tendencies: jam stains on the plate, a smear on his unshaven chin, the drip on the kitchen floor, and occasionally, a blotch on his pajamas.

I've never really been fond of jam, I find it cloyingly sweet, so much so that it burns my throat. But then this jam came along and I fell in love. L-O-V-E. Like Natalie Cole's Love. It's fruity, chunky, and the cherries taste as though they were just plucked from a tree and tossed with a touch of sugar. And since I've emptied the jar with my spatula, finger, and tongue, I've been a little blue. Nothing to sweeten my yogurt! Nothing to motivate me to wake up in the morning! Life will never be the same again!

I've been hankering over jam for weeks and weeks now and though Bonne Maman is my favorite, it's too expensive here. So, I consulted various websites as any determined jam-maker would do and rolled up my sleeves.

The moment I began mashing the strawberry chunks, releasing it's ruby juices, the kitchen smelled like a trail of grass, golden fields, and fresh berries, an enchanted garden, if you will. But I should have known, making jam isn't meant to be a clean matter.

No matter how many times I rinsed my hands, red sticky blotches always managed to stick to my skin, eventually, I gave up on cleaning every time I skimmed pink foam off the simmering pot of fruit. Much to my mother's disapproval, puddles of juice splattered everywhere on the kitchen counter, I can't help but make a mess (Did I tell you how I tried to paint my fingernails but ended up adding bright pink highlights to my hair?). As the undeniably fruity aroma of berries exploded in the air, I grew impatient, something best avoided when jam jars are sterilizing in a roaring pot of water. The jam wasn't gelling after several tests, so I continued to stir the pot grudgingly.

But finally, I scooped globs of cooked fruit into the jars and had enough jam to give away as gifts. In the morning, I jumped out of bed, and like my dad, dolloped a thick layer of strawberry jam on buttered toast, doing my best to avoid staining my shirt, I leaned over the sink and took a bite. There's only one word to describe eating something homemade and as easy as strawberries stewed in sugar: satisfaction.

Strawberry Jam
Adapted from Epicurious

Read through the recipe, it's a simple process, all it takes is time and patience. Also, the amount of sugar depends on how ripe your fruit is, I admit I was too heavy on the sweetness and should have dialed it down, but otherwise, it's still very good. The jam can be spread on plain muffins, brie toasts, used as cake filling, though I imagine it would be heavenly as a tart filling too.

Mason jars can be used to keep your jam, but I also used Bonne Maman jars--they're pretty and make great gifts.

Makes about 3-4 cups of jam

3 pounds of fresh strawberries (about 9 cups), washed and hulled
3 cups of sugar
1/3 cup of lemon juice

Sterilize jars:
Wash jars and lids in hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Put jars in a deep pot and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, covered, then boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, leaving jars in water. Heat lids in water to cover by 2 inches in a small saucepan until thermometer registered 180°F (do not let boil). Remove from heat, leaving lids in water. Keep jars and lids submerged in hot water, covered, until ready to use.

Cook jam:
Chill 2 small plates in freezer (for testing jam)

Cut strawberries into quarters. Transfer to a large pot, stir in lemon juice and mash to your desired consistency using potato masher or flat spatula (some people like their jam smoother, others like it chunkier, I fall in the latter category). Over medium heat, pour in sugar, stirring frequently and skimming foam, about 30 minutes.

To test jam for doneness, remove from heat, drop a teaspoonful on a chilled plate and chill for 1 minute. Tilt plate: if jam doesn't run syrupy and remains on the plate, it's ready. If it runs down the plate, continue cooking at slow boil, testing every 5 minutes, until done, up to 25 minutes more.

Seal, process and store jars:
Drain jars upside down on a clean kitchen towel for 1 minute, then invert. Ladle jam into jars, leaving ¼ inch of space at top. Wipe off rims of filled jars with a clean damp kitchen towel, then firmly screw on lids. Put sealed jars in pot and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, covered, then boil 10 minutes. With tongs, transfer jars to a towel-lined surface to cool.

Jars will seal; if you hear a ping, it means a vacuum has formed at the top, lid should be concave. Jams keeps in sealed jars in a cool dark place 5 to 6 months.

Recipe here!

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