The first of an ongoing series of experiments on making strawberry jam.
It begins with 8 quarts of strawberries.
I got a deal.
I can't resist a deal.
The guy at the Bagge Strawberries stall at our local farmer's market didn't have to work all that hard to talk me into taking home roughly 12 pounds of strawberries.
To that, I added the remainder of my harvest: 12 berries.
Don't laugh, those are very special berries - last year the crop totaled 2.
Not two pounds. Or two quarts. Or even two cups. Just two berries.
The year before, it was just one. And a chipmunk got it before I could. I found the half-eaten remains discarded on the ground with little teethy nibble marks all over it. Little bastard.
We're ramping up production (slowly), but nowhere near self-sustaining, berry-wise.
So I jumped for joy when I saw the Bagge Strawberry guy, with a table laden with red and shiny berries.
Let's admit it: I may have even squealed a little.
I asked for a flat, he offered 8 quarts.
That, my friends, is a lot of berries...I stood in the stream of foot traffic and debated with myself:
Should I get all that all at once? Should I wait? Should I get some now and some later?
The British Guy chimed in, saying if I wanted 12 pounds of berries, I should just get them, and get them now. I can't tell if that was because he was being super supportive of the imminent prospect of strawberry nirvana, or just wanted to move me along.
When he offered to carry them back to the car, I was sold.
Money changed hands in one direction, berries changed hands in the other.
I was puttering around the back yard the other day, and noticed that our black currant shrub, now in year 3, is covered in shiny black spheres, and I was just dying to use them in something. The currants hang in clusters of 1 or 2 to 5 or 6, tucked up under tri-lobed leaves, sometimes hard to see unless you're on the ground looking up into the plant. Some of them are attached pretty tightly, and shake the long stem as you pull them off with an assertive tug. Each time I heard a little plop as a berry fell off and hit the ground, I went scrabbling around in the grass trying to rescue it. This was the first harvest of the black currant, and every single one was special. One small picked-over shrub later, and I had a little over a pound of black currants.
Now we're at the part where we're back to the jam. Twelve pounds relieves me of the burden of committing to just one jam recipe. We have enough to eat, and plenty to play with, too. I decided to really go for it and try 3 different batches.
Never one to be daunted by complexity, the first recipe I attempted was a 3-day affair, a currant and strawberry combo.
My starting point for this preserve was the recipe for Strawberry and Red Currant Jelly with Whole Strawberries and Pepper, in Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures. Since it's got bits, I consider it a jam, but I was wondering on what side of the line a jelly with whole berries would fall - jam-like with a bit more squidge, or jelly-like with suspended berry orbs.
Now, those of you who make your way around jam-making have probably heard of Christine Ferber. There are several notable homages floating around out there: Chocolate and Zucchini, David Lebovitz. The Wednesday Chef calls her the jam fairy of Alsace.
So the woman has some skills. Clearly.
Let's dive in, fingers crossed, and give it a go, shall we?
SUMMARY, Jam #1
Time: 3 days, mostly hands-off.
Volume of berries: 2 1/2 pounds, plus 1 pound currants.
Volume of Product: 7, 1/2 pint jars
Flavor: Superbly deep, tart and complex. 'Gorgeous' was one taste tester's response.
Color: Deepest purple red.
Set: Spot-on. Lovely and wobbly, not overly firm.
Thoughts: This falls on the jelly side with suspended berries, so making sure each jar has an equal amount is important during canning. Otherwise, the last jar may wind up with no berries...which would make it jelly (and there's nothing wrong with that).
Jump to part 2, or continue on for the recipe.
Strawberry and Black Currant Jam.
Makes 7, 1/2 pint jars plus a little extra. Yields may vary depending on produce.
2 1/2 pounds strawberries to yield 2 1/4 pounds stemmed (1.13 kg to yield about 1 kg)
4 1/4 cups white sugar (850 g) plus 2 cups (400 g)
1 lb black currants (450 g)
3.5 ounces water (100 g)
You will also need a large non-reactive glass or metal bowl, a large pot, a strainer or chinois, and a fine sieve, plus 7-8 sterilized 1/2 pint canning jars, lids and bands.
Gently rinse the strawberries and allow to air dry. Remove the stem and hull from each berry. Quarter berries larger than 1 1/2 inches (ca. 4 cm), and halve berries larger than 3/4 inch (2 cm). For berries smaller than 1/2 inch (1.25 cm), leave whole.
Toss the strawberries with the sugar and lemon juice, and leave to macerate for 12 hours or overnight. If it is cool, you can leave them on the counter. If it is warm, refrigerate.
Pour the now juicy strawberry-sugar mixture into a large pot and bring to a simmer with very little stirring - a light mass of small foamy bubbles will loft up the strawberry pieces - and allow to simmer for a minute. Allow to cool for a few minutes in the pan, then carefully pour into a large heat-proof bowl and refrigerate overnight. When cold, cover with a sheet of waxed paper, making sure that the berries are all fully submerged in the juice.
Rinse the black currants in cold water, drain, and remove any stems. Bring the currants to a boil with the water, then turn the heat to low, cover the pan and let the currants simmer gently for 5 minutes.
Turn off the heat and allow the juicy currant mixture to cool until warm but not hot, then pass through a fine strainer or chinois to remove the currant skins. Press on the currant pulp to extract as much juice as possible - it will be very thick. The tiny currant seeds will most likely pass through the strainer as well - this is alright. You should have about 1 1/3 cup. Discard the pulp.
Strain the syrupy strawberry mixture and combine the strawberry syrup with the thick currant juice. Put back into a cleaned pot and warm gently until the two are fully combined. Pour this currant-strawberry syrup through a very fine sieve to remove all the currant seeds, and discard the seeds.
Return the completely strained strawberry-currant mixture to the large pot and add the juice of a second lemon and the remaining 2 cups (400 g) sugar. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat and cook until the temperature measures 221 degrees F (105 degrees C) on a thermometer. Add the strawberries and return to a boil without stirring. When the temperature reaches 221 degrees F again, which takes about 10 minutes, remove from the heat and allow to cool for 2 to 3 minutes.
Fill up the canning jars according to proper canning protocols, making sure that the strawberries are distributed evenly. Process according to your favorite method.
Store in a cool, dark place. Lasts up to year.