Sunday, August 12, 2012

A few things, and Berry Jam (before it's too late!)

1. Dear Local D'Lish Class Participants: I love you. Truly. My Thursday nights for the last several months have been so wonderful. And not only because they're the only nights I've been eating well. No indeed. It's primarily because you're all so lovely and fun and inquisitive and interested and interesting and I learn so much from you. Talk about the community-building power of food! Specifically to last week's Summer Squash folks - I promised you the quesadilla/empanada filling recipe and I intend to deliver by tomorrow. I have all the produce but am low on my spices. I intend to prep the veggies tonight, stop by my neighborhood spice store (yep! I have a neighborhood spice store!) tomorrow, and cook up, document, and post about it during nap time.

2. I'm working on letting time do the work lately and you should too. It's helping me feel a little more balanced as I juggle parenting two busy children, writing, cooking, teaching, getting settled into our new home, watching Downtown Abbey, being present to those I love, and prioritizing (for the first time in a long time) self-care. This afternoon, while my children napped, I soaked beans and some overnight wheat- and egg-free pancake batter (the base recipe is here, and everyone here likes it, but I'm still in test-kitchen mode as I work at perfecting a version for my own family (and ultimately you)); I got my cold-press brewing in the refrigerator; I roasted five bulbs of garlic. All together it was probably 15 minutes of "active time" in the kitchen, all spent talking to my sister on the phone, but it felt super productive. And tomorrow we'll have pancakes for breakfast and white bean and roasted garlic soup for dinner, and I can start my morning with an iced latte that costs just a fraction of what I'd pay for it at a coffee shop. When I taught my "Cook for the Week" class in the winter (for some reason it seems like a more enticing class in the winter, when having three burners and your oven running at once is actually a good thing), I had been really good about prepping and soaking and slow-cooking and it made life so much simpler and our meals so much better. The allergy thing and my son's becoming mobile (danger!) and a lot of traveling and all the transitions we've gone through recently got me super disorganized and I don't think I've ever in my adult life been as bad at planning our family's meals as I've been in the last few months. Our meals, accordingly, have suffered. (Said the food blogger/cooking class instructor.) Now that I'm getting used to my new kitchen and after being reminded this afternoon of how good and rewarding it feels to be a little more on top of things, I'm motivated to be better. I think the blog will benefit too.

3. Jam! I made this at home and then also at a Summer Fruits class a couple months ago. It's fabulous, easy, delicious, versatile (note the variations at the bottom of the recipe) and especially good for novice jam-makers who are intimidated by words like pectin and preserving. It also requires an Ove-Glove or something comparable to protect your hand as you stir and stir and stir hot hot hot beautiful beautiful beautiful berries on your stovetop. The transformation of these hot beautiful berries from regular berry color to the most vibrant, royal berry color you've ever seen is just plain magical. I figured I'd better get the recipe to you before the berries are all gone. (They've certainly gone up in price already. Boo.)

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Simple Berry Jam
Adapted from Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain (excellent, beautiful cookbook)
Yield: about 4 cups (easily halved)

3 pounds berries (e.g. strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries)*
3/4 to 1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1-2 ounces crystallized ginger (optional)

Optional flavorings:
Zest of 1 orange, lemon, or 2 limes
1 tablespoon high-quality balsamic vinegar
Bunch of fresh herbs, e.g. lavender, oregano, mint, basil, lemon balm, rosemary
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup

Before you get started: (1) Make an ice bath for cooling the preserves in a large bowl; have a medium-sized bowl nearby. (2) Have your longest wooden spoon and a good pair of heat-proof gloves/oven mitts on hand. (3) Hull your strawberries, if using, and halve any large fruit (you want 1/2-1” pieces of fruit).

Place water and sugar into a 5-quart or larger pot. Let mixture sit for a minute. Place pot on stove over high heat and cook, without stirring, until the syrup is gently bubbling all across the surface (5-7 minutes). (The bubbles will start out small, around the circumference of the pot, but then will get big and extend into the middle, slowly but surely.) If sugar darkens at all, add fruit immediately. (But ideally it won't caramelize.)

Add berries and ginger, if using, and stir with a wooden spoon. With heat on medium-high, cook the berries for 15-20 minutes, until syrup thickens to a jammy consistency and fruit has broken down a bit. Much like making candy, there is a chemical reaction that happens at some point that makes the evolution from syrupy berry mix to JAM not gradual, but sort of sudden. You'll feel the resistance and see the gelling as you stir. Once you do, just keep stirring for another minute or two.

When jam is done, i.e. thick and jammy and all kinds of crazy aromatic and your arm is super hot, move pot to a cool burner. Pour the jam, carefully, into the medium-sized bowl you set aside. Place the bowl of jam into the ice bath. Stir gently to allow some heat to escape. Leave as is (super fruity, shiny, fruit-forward preserves, you will have!) or try adding one of the optional flavorings like so:

If using zest, balsamic vinegar, or an additional sweetener, just stir it in carefully while still hot.

If using the following herbs - lavender, oregano, rosemary, thyme - carefully dip the bunch of herbs into the hot preserves until half immersed. Still holding the stems in your hand, stir the bouquet around in the jam about 10 circles. More than a minute of infusion will result in a very strong herby flavor. If using these herbs instead - mint, basil, lemon balm, fresh stevia leaves - mince a handful of herbs as finely as possible so that you end up with about 1-2 tablespoons. Stir them into the jam while still hot.

STORING: Keeps in refrigerator for a good week. Can be frozen as well, just allow to cool completely before storing it.


The jam pictured above was about 2 lbs strawberries + 1 lb blackberries, with orange zest and crystallized ginger. It was DELIGHTFUL.

Other good combo ideas off the top of my head:

Raspberries + mint + lemon zest
Strawberries + basil + balsamic vinegar
Blueberries + lime zest + crystallized ginger + maple syrup
Mixed berries + lavender + honey


* Maybe I was a little dramatic with the "before it's too late" title. Because, truly, frozen berries would work fine here too. No need to thaw.


  1. Do you think this would work with honey instead of sugar? Is sugar 100% necessary to make jam?

    I've never made jam before, but we're moving away from processed foods as much as possible (eating "paleo" as often as possible) and jelly/jam is one of my final frontiers (as far as getting the kids to eat better).

  2. Sara: Sugar isn't necessary by any means. Honey would be awesome, but it will be more sensitive to the heat than sugar, so you'd want to monitor the heat, stir NON STOP, and just wait around until the jam becomes just jammy enough for you. You've made me want to try using honey with the last berries of the year. So let's compare notes!