For the past week, I have been eating strawberry jam on toast or a biscuit for breakfast. I made the jam using berries and honey we received through our first pick-up at our CSA farm share. What has been most enjoyable about the jam is how close it comes to eating a fresh strawberry. I feel like I have truly preserved the flavor, color and texture of a strawberry picked in northeastern Massachusetts in mid-June.
I am not patting myself on the back. This will be my forth summer attempting to preserve strawberry jam. The first two years, my jam did not set. Recently, I discovered that my first attempts failed to set because I was attempting to use less sugar than the recipe called for. The first year, my lids sealed, but the contents were basically a syrupy mess which at best could be used for an ice cream topping. I didn't use it for ice cream topping either because, despite the decrease in sugar, I wasn't happy with the flavor. The strawberries had lost their bright red color, the flesh of the berries was limp and soggy and the syrup tasted more like strawberry flavored syrup instead of like mashed, fresh strawberries. Not being much of a food scientist, I thought my first batch of jam didn't set due to the additional heat required to seal the lids. So, the next summer, I tried using parafin as a seal. I ended up with a similar result.
Last summer was marked by copious amounts of rain. The season was short making fresh berries scarce. I didn't want to waste the few quarts I was able to get my hands on by experimenting with jam.
This year, I found a pectin at Whole Foods that is specially formulated to use in jams and jellies that use less sugar or other forms of sweetener. For my test batch, I used the quart of berries that were included with our first CSA pick-up. Also included in our share for that first week was a bottle of honey that had just been bottled and came from the bees that pollinated the strawberries earlier in the spring. For me, there is a kind of poetry in this. And is what makes eating from a local farm so satisfying.
My quart of berries yielded two cups of mashed berries (my son had eaten about a handful of berries on the way from the farmstand to our house). I used two tablespoons of honey in this recipe. I don't taste the honey in this recipe. Instead, I taste the strawberries as I remember them tasting the day I picked them up. Other than being mashed, the flesh of the berry has stayed in tact and the color is still bright red.
With this success, I decided to order a case of strawberries from our farmer and will pick them up on Tuesday. Hopefully, I will end up with about a dozen jars of bright red jam to give away at Christmas time with plenty leftover for ice cream and snacks.