Cheese. Wine. Kimchi. Sauerkraut. My favorite foods involve fermentation, pickling, and mold. How is that?
We visited Tanaka Farms this past Fourth of July weekend. Tanaka Farms is, I believe, the last operating farm in Orange County. The sole memory of what used to be before shopping plazas, asphalt, and apartment buildings. At 30 acres, the farm is big enough to deserve its name yet small enough to entertain wagons of guests who've never seen tomatoes growing on a vine.
I bought a few pints of strawberries. These red jewels are at the end of their season, and I was lucky to get a hold of a few before they disappeared.
Now, I was born and raised in Santa Maria, California, a strawberry town unto itself. I grew up eating berries as big as my palm, tossed in sugar or simply washed and eaten straight. (Looking back, I wonder if the pesticides had any ill effect on me, but judging by where I am today, I think I fared okay.) The Tanaka berries were much smaller, but, at the risk of libeling my hometown, they were far superior.
The berries were deep red, almost black, with an intense strawberry flavor. Saying a strawberry tastes like a strawberry is a bit of a tautology, but I know no other way to describe it. These were berries that had to be eaten within hours, lest they rot. Unfortunately, I could only have a taste without fearing my allergies would attack, so I took my berries home and decided to make jam. What better way to celebrate the end of strawberry season?
I was a little hesitant about jumping on the preserves bandwagon. When would I ever find time to make jam? How much jam could one savory tooth person possibly consume? But I had some Weck jars I purchased at the Ferry Building during my last trip to San Francisco, and I was itching to put them to use. And it turns out that small batch jam is simple, once you get past the fear of unsterile jars.
Below are the results. I plan to eat these with homemade biscuits. Better yet--biscuits mixed with cheese.
Note: Don't use this post as a canning guide. My jar is clean, but I'm not so sure it's ready to be stored in a cellar as emergency rations. But even if you do plan to eat the jam quickly, here are some general tips I think you should keep in mind: (1) put hot liquid in hot jars to prevent the glass from cracking; (2) leave a enough head space at the top of the jar; (3) sterilize your jars thoroughly (warming them is insufficient!); (4) do not, do not, do not, do not, do not EVER touch hot sugar!! (trust me, it is a mistake)
In a big heavy saucepan, I added about 5 cups of mashed, organic strawberries, 2 cups of sugar*, and the juice and zest of 1 lemon. I cooked this at a low boil for about 25-30 minutes. Meanwhile, I had my jars boiling in a big pot of water. I tested the jam by dropping a teaspoon on a plate I had stuck in the freezer. When I could run a finger through the jam without it running together, I knew it was ready.
* I found the jam too sweet but am nervous about adjusting the sugar, since it combines with the fruit pectin and acid to create the jam. More research is due here.
I removed the jars from the water, dried them, set them on a dry towel, and carefully poured the jam into the jars.
I left about 1/4" of space at the top.
I sealed the jars by adding the lids and clamping them shut. This step is unique to Weck jars, which use glass and rubber instead of the usual lid and ring setup. The clamps hold the lid down until a natural suction develops. No rusting metal innards = awesome.
And there, I was done. The next morning, I enjoyed homemade strawberry jam on toast with cream cheese. Delicious.
(Note: I skipped processing the jars
since I plan to eat my jam fairly quickly.)
Love the strawberry design on the lid