Saving the Season

Saving the Season” is not only a good thing to do, it is also a very good cookbook by Kevin West, published in 2013 and available at your local library (once I return it).  The recipes inside this hefty volume range from your basic strawberry jam to Scottish scones (makes sense, something to put that jam on!) to a Gibson, for which you need the recipe for cocktail onions.  Beginning with Spring strawberries and ending with Winter kumquats, the recipes and ideas are interspersed with prose and poems that continue the theme of appreciating seasonal foodstuffs in their season.  Recipe ideas like “Slow cooked strawberry jam with rosé wine” (page 57), “Cherry olives” (page 117) and “Curried cauliflower pickle” (page 405) are enough to sell me.  It’s a great book and I don’t know why I haven’t come across it before…

As most of you know, preserving is not new to us – we’ve been “putting up” our own jams and pickles for a long time with fairly good results.  Last year we made the giant step of going from commercial pectin based jam to the old fashioned  natural pectin style, with hugely satisfying positive results, from which we have not looked back.   Without the commercial pectin there is a bit more time at the stove, but there is also a lot more flavor in the jar without using nearly as much sugar.  (Mr. West notes the fact that making jam inherently involves using a lot of “white death”, but, he argues, a half pint of home-made jam contains as much sugar as a single 12 oz soft drink.  Since no one is going to eat an entire jar of jam in one sitting, just sayin’…)

We returned from Godfrey’s on Monday with yet another flat of their so-delicious strawberries, plus some huge stalks of rhubarb, with visions of strawberry-rhubarb jam floating in our head.  (Is it just me, or are strawberries particularly good this year?) Yesterday we got to work, taking some guidance from the aforementioned cookbook.

(And yet another aside – Kevin has discovered the best way to keep those fragile berries at their peak: store them (unwashed) in the walk-in within a Styrofoam cooler.  He already does that with tomatoes and figured, why not strawberries?  It works amazingly well – berries we might get on Monday or Tuesday are still perfect for a party on Friday night.  Not that most people have room for a Styrofoam cooler in their home refrigerator…but, maybe a small one?)

On thing Mr. West does which I have not seen or done before is to sometimes macerate his fruit in the sugar for a time before starting the cooking process.  Makes sense.  For the strawberry-rhubarb he recommends a 30 minute maceration time, other recipes call for as long as overnight (such as for Apricot jam, page 184).

Here is his recipe for “Basic Strawberry Jam” (page 53), which is pretty much his blueprint for any berry jam, adjusting sugar to taste, depending on the sweetness of the fruit.  Words enclosed in [] are my two cents comments.

  1. Rinse well two pounds of [the tastiest] strawberries [you can find] and remove their caps.  Combine with 2.5 cups of sugar and 1 tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice.  Add a bit of lemon zest if you wish.  Crush the mixture with a potato masher or your hands.
  2. Turn this mixture into a [wide, relatively deep] preserving pan [or rondeau].  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring regularly.  Reduce the heat a bit when the fruit comes to a full rolling boil, [which is a boil you cannot stir down], and stir constantly.  Boil to the gel point, 8 to 10 minutes, or until the jam falls from the spoon in “sheets” rather than drops, and will coat the back of a cold spoon.  [Temperature wise, gel set is 8 degrees above boiling for your altitude, which here in flat-land is 212 degrees, making gel set 220 degrees.]
  3. When gel set has been reached, remove the pan from the heat, skim if necessary [rarely need to] and ladle into four prepared half-pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Seal and process in a ten minute boiling-water bath.  [Or ladle into a similarly prepared quart mason jar and store in the fridge for immediate consumption!]

How hard is that?!?  Just be sure to stir stir stir all the while – especially as it gets thick – and you will easily have some very tasty summer-in-a-jar to spread on the breakfast toast all year long.

Here’s a quick slide show of our recent adventures in jam-making:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next recipe I plan to make out of this book is for “Cherry ‘Shine” (page 115)!  And then…

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