|Freshly picked strawberries for jam|
“I was thinking how much I love strawberries,” she said justly.
“Well, I love them too, but picking twenty pounds is picking fifteen pounds more than reasonable. What are you going to do with them all? They’ll go bad so fast,” I chastised in my big-sister known-it-all way.
She’ll raise an eyebrow at me when she learns I picked 22 pounds today.
It is nearly impossible to quit picking strawberries when they are as big as a hen’s egg, sun warmed, and as sweet and juicy as a ripened peach. I took Tommy and Charlie with me, and as I filled my baskets they ran down the long rows pausing to pick and eat the biggest berries they could find, juices running down their chins even down to their socks. They’d dash back again to tip my basket into theirs, “stealing” my berries, run off to examine a ladybug or grasshopper all the while wondering out loud unnerving things such as “do snakes like strawberries?”
I sure hope not.
It must go back to our origins. It’s a primal pleasure to be in a sunny place surrounded by ripe, delicious food with one’s children close at hand playing and eating. What mother doesn’t enjoy watching her children eat? What child doesn’t enjoy picking food from vines or trees? I remember being very young and the compulsion I felt to pick anything I saw growing. My grandmother would take me into her garden and point to the ripe tomatoes and I would happily pick and whatever she would let me. I was desperate to pick every tomato –ready or not. When I was just a little bit older, my Aunt Penny would dress us in old, soft men’s long sleeve cotton shirts with the cuffs rolled up and our blue jeans, hot and scratchy in the July heat, and take us to the edge of the dark woods to pick raspberries. The woods led back into the great Cherokee National forest that we thought was scary and haunted. Bears and bobcats and Indians, oh my! We were always happy and extra loud as we picked buckets of raspberries gulping many mouthfuls and avoiding the Japanese beetles that inadvertently fell into our buckets.
There is practically nothing that smells better than fresh strawberries cooking down into jam. When we made jam at home, my grandmother would skim the foam off the berries and dab it into a saucer to cool. I thought the strawberry foam was a delicious treat. There is not much to making strawberry jam. You use the best fruit, add sugar and lemon juice and cook it until it reaches 220 degrees which seems like will take forever. While it is cooking you skim off the foam. I like smooth jam so I puree mine with a stick blender while it is cooking. The best pan to use for jam making is a Mauviel copper jam pan as copper is such a great conductor of heat and the jam pan is very wide allowing the extra water in the fruit to evaporate quickly. It is also a very beautiful piece of equipment and I am a sucker for kitchen bling.
When the jam reaches its temperature, I immediately can in a hot water bath for ten minutes and then remove it to cool but not before I have ladled hot spoonfuls over vanilla ice-cream for everyone. Our family likes to pick at Kelly’s farm outside of Cross Plains, Tennnessee. There are plenty of strawberries left to pick this week so I’ll have to plan to back when my little sister won’t catch me.
|Jam is ready at 220 degrees|
8 cups strawberries, hulled
2 cups sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
1. Toss strawberries in sugar and place in the fridge overnight. This releases the juices.
2. In a copper jam pan (or non-reactive saucepan), bring to a boil and stir. When berries have softened, crush or puree. Stir in the lemon juice. Cook over simmer, stirring frequently until the jam reaches 220 degrees, skimming off foam as it develops.
3. Ladle into jars and either refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or can using boiling water bath method.