April 2011

Strawberry Jam Session

It’s been about a week or so since I cooked up a batch of strawberry jam and I am still amazed I actually did it.

It all started when I bought three baskets of strawberries at the La Jolla Farmers market one Sunday. I spent eight dollars on those babies because they looked so dark and ripe. Now I know better. Dark berries will be quite ripe, but not necessarily more sweet and certainly not any more fresh. When I got home and washed the soft berries, I realized they were going to spoil within two days, tops. It was so disappointing! I tried to think of ways to salvage the situation and realized I could cook them down, the way people did before refrigeration days. I thought, I could preserve them somehow! Then cue light bulb — I could make jam! It’s something I’ve always wanted to try and the inner pioneer girl in me screamed, “yes, try. You’ve got to!”

So I tried, and LO and BEHOLD, the strawberries actually jelled and turned to jam. While the entire affair was a lot easier than I thought it would be, the initial dive into the project was very challenging. The more I read about making jam, the more it seemed like a horribly arduous task. There are all sorts of instructions on sanitizing jars in boiling hot water, dipping the metal spoon in the same boiling water, using pectin, using underripe berries, etc. I eventually modified a simpler recipe I read here.

This is what you do:

Wash, hull, and halve each strawberry (I had about two pints of berries). Toss them in a pot and simmer on high heat with about one cup of sugar. Cook until sugar dissolves. Lower the heat a tad and continue to cook and stir. Many recipes call for pectin, but some quick google research told me cooking the fruit in sugar alone will get it going. Like magic, the fruit started to thicken and become jammy. After testing it, I poured it in a glass pickling jar that I bought at a World Market. Once it cooled down, I tasted it and was awe-struck by how similar it was to, you know, jam you buy at the store.

The carnage! Be advised: don't wear your best shirt while cooking jam.

I so expected an incredible jam failure but everything turned out to be OK. There’s an odd thrill in making your own jam. Perhaps it’s the resourcefulness of it all. I am not sure how long my jam will last, as I was not very careful with the sanitizing process. Properly prepared preserves can last months. But it’s not like I was canning the summer strawberries for the long winter. I was going for the experience. And, I could probably still slather some on hot buttered biscuits within the next few weeks.

Strawberry Water

There is a sudden influx of strawberries at the markets lately, have you noticed?  I bought some just yesterday and as I cut a few up to munch on this afternoon, the aroma of the beautiful berries wafting up to my nose, I suddenly remembered one of the best strawberry experiences I’ve had, ever: strawberry water.

This recipe is from none other than my dad, who long ago whipped up this simple, delicate drink one hot summer day when I was a young child. I recall that very day, when there happened to be no soda, juice or other interesting soft drinks around the house. My brother and I clamored for something sweet, you know — that little something you crave on a sweltering day. Miraculously, my dad proceeded to make a wonderful bowl of sweet water infused with strawberries.

He sliced a few strawberries — you don’t even need that many — and added them to a big glass bowl filled with water, ice, and plenty of sugar. My brother and I watched with a fair amount of skepticism. Just water and those few slices of strawberries? What’s that gonna do? Still, we watched. Stir, stir, stir is all he did. Slowly, the sugar dissolved and the juice from the sliced strawberries mingled with the water, coloring it an oh-so-pale pink. He stirred some more, gave it to us in a cup and ALAS — how divine it was! I decided to try it for myself and here it is.

Mind you, this is not a strawberry drink; it truly is a flavored water. So if you’re imagining something robust, then this recipe is not for you. The strawberry flavor is very soft, which I think makes it all the more appealing.

All you need is a bowl of water, about five sliced strawberries, and sugar. Stir together until the water turns pink. I found myself smashing the strawberries with a ladle to coax the juices a bit. Measure your sugar to taste. You’ll likely need to put a fair amount of sugar, as that’s what makes this so tasty. Pour over ice and enjoy! Ideal for warm days, sitting out in the sun.