Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Capturing the Harvest: Sun-Cooked Strawberry Jam
Here in DC the farmer's markets are hopping and every week there are new crops to enjoy. We are moving on from asparagus and are now drowning in strawberries and cucumbers. Some people are busy making jams and preserves and pickles but me, well, I am still scared of those things. It is my dream to have a root cellar (and a kitchen large enough for a stand mixer, and solar panels; you can keep your stainless steel appliances and granite countertops), but canning, I don't know I worry about botulism and all those things that, you know, can kill you. Blame it on my mother (hi Mom!) who won't eat mayonnaise if it's been out of the fridge for three minutes, but I am a little more cautious than some people.
Enter: Putting Food By. This is the classic book on preserving food, through canning, freezing, drying, smoking, pickling, and root-cellaring. The copy I picked up at an American Association of University Women book sale is from 1974* which makes it as old as me. Hrmph. This is not a book you should use if you want to can because you generally should not use old canning information but the updated version would be a good one to have. A recent New York Times article and a bunch of buzz on the internet has apparently sealed (ha) canning as all the rage. See, for example, this Apartment Therapy post. For safe canning guidelines, visit the USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation.
So, heed my warning and be careful about food preservation. But if you are a little daring, you might want to try this recipe for Sun-Cooked Strawberry Jam.
Sun-Cooked Strawberry Jam
I am typing it verbatim because it is a sweet recipe. From Putting Food By, 1974.
You need a blistering hot, still day to do this. Have a table set up in the full sun, its legs set in cans or small pans of water to keep crawling insects from the jam. To protect it from flying insects, have handy a large sheet of clean window glass, the means to prop it at a slant over the platters, and cheesecloth or mosquito netting to tape like a curtain around the three sides left open to the air. And work in small batches.
Wash and hull berries, and measure them to determine how much sugar you need. Put a layer of berries in the bottom of a big kettle, cover with an equal number of cups of sugar; repeat a layer of berries and cover it with sugar. Set aside for 30 minutes to let the berries "weep" and the juice start drawing. Place over very low heat and bring slowly to simmering, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the sugar is dissolved.
Pour sirupy (sic) berries 1/2 inch deep into large plates or platters. Set platters on the table in strong sun. Prop the glass over them with one edge on the table, the opposite edge raised four to six inches high...Arrange netting around the open sides.
As the fruit cooks in the sun, turn it over with a spatula--2 or 3 times during the day. When it has obviously jelled enough, pour it into sterilized jars and seal.
If the sun is not strong enough or if the weather is windy, the jam can take 2 or 3 days to jell. In that case, bring the platters in each night.
*(Image coming soon, I'm having trouble uploading it).