First of the Season – Strawberries!

Part of me questions, “Already?!”
Part of me sighs, “Finally!”

Last weekend, strawberries didn’t just arrived, they seemed to take over, at least visually.  That is until the market opened and droves were scooping up flats, coveting their conquests as they headed for their cars.

I’m looking forward to my personal seasonal favorite – strawberry rhubarb pie.  And to shortcake.  And jam.

For years, I’ve been making the following recipe for strawberry jam.  It is a French technique wherein the berries are repeatedly plunged into a boiling sugar syrup.  The syrup is then reduced, and finally the berries are re-introduced and the jam is thickened to the jellying point.  It is easier than it sounds – I find the hulling more tedious than the jam-making by far.

But last year a friend tipped me off to a fabulous cookbook, Mes Confitures – The Jams & Jellies of Christine Ferber.  Ms. Ferber’s recipes are unique and delicious sounding, and the ones I’ve tried have work like a charm.  Her instructions are very concise, and most of the ingredients are available here in abundant Oregon.  I look forward to expanding my repetoire this season with at least 2 new jams:  Rhubarb & Whole Strawberries and Strawberry with Elderberry Blossoms.

Elder Flowers are in season right now – in fact, I was at the Moreland Farmers Market Wednesday afternoon at the Springwater Farm booth demonstrating and giving out samples of a very easy Elder Flower Fritter.

If you don’t have your own elder patch from which to forage, come on down to the market – the foragers have already done the picking for you!  Springwater Farm should have elder flowers this weekend, but keep in mind that this delicacy has a very short season (those buds are hankering to be berries!), so perhaps they won’t be there the next….

Strawberry Jam

5 pounds strawberries, hulled
5 cups sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

In a large, non-reactive bowl, gently mix the strawberries with the sugar.  Cover and allow the strawberries to stand at room temperature overnight.

Transfer the sugared berries with all of their juice to a colander set over a preserving pan and let the juices drain into the pan.  Once the juice is in the pan, set the strawberries aside and turn on the flame to medium-low.  Stir the syrup until it is hot, then raise the heat and bring to a boil.

Skim any foam that rises to the surface.  Add the reserved strawberries and the lemon juice to the boiling syrup.  Boil for 5 minutes, stirring often, and skimming the foam all the while as needed.  Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer the berries to a colander set over a bowl.

Boil the syrup until reduced slightly (about 5 minutes).  Add any strawberry juices that have collected beneath the colander and reduce again.

Add the strawberries back to the syrup and boil for 5 minutes.  Remove the strawberries to a colander and reduce the syrup slightly once again, adding the syrup as it collects beneath the colander.  Add the berries back to the thickened syrup and now cook until thickened to the jellying point is reached, diligently skimming as needed (skimming away all the foam produces a more translucent jelly and a cleaner, clearer jam).

Nearing the Jellying Point - The Jam Slips off the Spoon in a Sheet that Separates into 2 or 3 Distinct Drips

Spoon the jam into warm sterilized jars and seal.

Strawberry with Elderberry Blossoms
from Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber

2 1/2 pounds small wild Mara strawberries, or 2 1/4 pounds net, or a combination of wild and cultivated strawberries
3 3/4 cups granulated sugar
juice of 1 small lemon
5 bunches fresh elderberry blossoms

Choose small strawberries.  Rinse the strawberries in cold water, dry them carefully in a towel, and stem them.  In a non-reactive bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice.  Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and let them macerate refrigerated overnight.

The next day, bring the fruit mixture to a simmer in a preserving pan.  Turn into a bowl.  Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and refrigerate overnight.

On the third day, remove the fresh (they should ideally be just-picked) elder flowers from the stem.  Pour the strawberry mixture into a sieve.  Bring the collected juice to a boil in a preserving pan, skim, and continue cooking over high heat.  The syrup will be sufficiently concentrated at 221 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer.  Add the half-cooked strawberries.  Return to a boil over high heat, skim, and boil again for about 5 minutes, stirring gently.  Check the set.  The strawberries will be translucent, like preserves.

Add the elderberry flowers and return to a boil.  Put the jam into jars and immediately seal.

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About Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans

By offering Sage Culinary Advice, The Farmer's Feast assists Farmers' Market shoppers in making the most of their purchases, and helps vendors realize the culinary possibilities of their products. We create culinary education programs at Farmers' Markets. Through food preparation and cooking demonstrations, recipes focusing on technique, samples, stories and free advice, we're encouraging people to cook more often, from scratch, with market-fresh ingredients. Our goal? To cultivate domestic culinary arts. Once you've tasted the Farmer's Feast - glistening local produce, pastured meats, artisan cheese, wild seafood, rich nuts, grains and legumes - and see how easy cooking this bounty can be, you'll be hungry for fresh. Visit The Farmer's Feast on Facebook / E-mail wildeats@msn.com
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