Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jamming in California

More about jam, this time from sunny (and foggy) California. Article and images courtesy of Jon.

Heidi and I visited a friend's cabana project north of Yosemite last weekend, and on the way back to SF stopped at a farmstand outside of Oakdale and picked up a few strawberries...about 30 pints worth, to be exact (for only $34 too...tough to beat!). We arrived home around 8:30 in the evening, and were up until midnight making freezer jam with about 3/4 of them. For those unfamiliar, freezer jam is 'jam lite'...less sugar, less cooking time, and somewhat less preserved than traditional jam since there's no proper sterilization process for the containers. Paraphrased from 'How to Cook Everything':

6 cups berries or stone fruit, roughly chopped
1.5 to 2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

Crush fruit to release moisture and cook on medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to low and stir occasionally with mixture at a simmer for 15-30 minutes. Mixture may or may not gel depending on the fruit used. Refrigerate and use within 1-2 weeks, or freeze for up to 1 year.

In our case, these strawberries held so much water that it made a very thin jam...almost a strawberry sauce, perfect for dessert toppings or making agua fresca in addition to a toast accompaniment.

Regardless, the berries themselves were perfect to eat straight...sweet and tart, and very tender. California is ridiculously endowed with great produce, which is one of the reasons it is difficult to contemplate ever leaving once it has sunk its claws into you. Cherries are next, followed by apricots and other stone fruits. During the summer months Heidi and I will often eat over a pound of fresh fruit for breakfast with a slice of bread...making hay while the sun shines, as they say. It's fruity madness.


  1. All this fruit talk is making me crazy! We just got friggin' leaves on the trees last week! While I did catch the first whiff of lilac blossoms yesterday, berry season is still months away. It's so short here that we really over-do it when it comes. Though most fruit really doesn't need the extra sugar, we like to drizzle a little maple syrop (I'm of course talkin' about the REAL stuff) and throw some chopped mint into our fruit salads.

    Our tiny wild blueberries in Quebec are outstanding, and like all local produce, is all the more appreciated for the long winter we must pass through to get it again. I think every Canadian would say the same thing - we do tend to wear it like a badge.

    My all-time favourite berry is still the saskatoon (impossible to describe - maybe I'll try in another post). I remember picking buckets and buckets of them every summer as a kid - pies, jams, cakes and muffins ensued. However no memory is more sublime than stepping out of our cabin door on a July morning, walking ten steps to pull saskatoons off the wild bushes and into the cereal bowl in my hand, and heading down to the dock to dangle my toes in the water while I eat them.

    I've decided that's what every morning should be in the afterlife.

  2. Last summer, a friend and I went strawberry picking and came home with so many berries, we were momentarily paralysed. Pails and pails lined up on my balcony, with bees already congregating. Our solution? Sorting!

    Grade A: perfect, intact, no mashed bits or ick or signs of decay. These went into the fridge to enjoy in the coming days.

    Grade B: slightly mangled, probably best for jams or preserves or reductions. Into plastic containers and stewed within 24 hours.

    Grade C: crushed, bruised and overripe, these went into freezer bags, to be opened and consumed mid-winter, when our hearts began to pine for summer heat.

    Grade STD: these ones had spent the afternoon mashed to oblivion at the bottom of each bucket, poaching in the sun and further reducing on the car-ride home. These berries were "straight to drinks", meaning into the blender with a glug or three of vodka and a handful of ice.