Mmmmm, strawberries (part 3)

One of my earliest jam-making memory is of strawberry jam, or rather at my mother’s attempts to make strawberry jam. Strawberries are low in pectin, you see, and my mother’s strawberry jam never seemed to set, regardless of how many hours it spent at a rolling boil on the stove. She was one of those people who were pathologically unable to follow a recipe (I sometimes think I inherited that gene), and that didn’t help matters. One time we raced out to the supermarket to buy pectin and one time she read a newspaper article that suggested letting the strawberry/sugar mix sit for 3-4 days before cooking it up. She tried that, the batch started fermenting, and if my memory serves me correctly, she threw it all away. When a strawberry jam finally did set, once a year or so, it was usually boiled almost brown, with the strawberries wizened to delicious chewiness. It tasted good, but only if you ate it with your eyes shut.

So all that goes to say that I’ve always been somewhat frightened of unadulterated strawberry jam, and the pickled strawberry jam recipe that canning buddy and I made few weeks back just proved my point.  It sounded interesting, but it was barely more than a syrup, and it just tasted odd. Better to mix strawberries with rhubarb, or gooseberry, or redcurrants and have a jam that works, I thought.

Why then did I break all my promises to myself and make almost-unadulterated strawberry jam this weekend, even though canning buddy has all the recipe books, and I didn’t even check the internet for ideas? Am I mad?

No, I am not mad, and by pure luck and a little bit of invention I’ve ended up with a knock-your-socks off strawberry preserve that sits nicely on the spoon, uses no pectin, is infused subtly with lavender, is almost not sweet and will probably not last beyond the end of this week. I asked the spouse to rate this one out of five, after serving him with a generous dollop atop his favorite vanilla ice cream . “Is it a jam, or a preserve,” he asked. “Let’s call it a preserve, it can be a little runnier that way.”

He gave it a five (Edit: out of five). I think that might be a little mean.

Strawberry lavender jam

2 quarts strawberries, cut in halves or quarters
2 cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
4 sprigs lavender

Mix the first three ingredients with two of the lavender sprigs and let it sit for 4-5 hours until the sugar is virtually dissolved and the strawberries are sitting in juice. Remove the fruit carefully with a slotted spoon, toss the lavender sprigs, and bring the syrup up to a boil, slowly until the sugar finishes dissolving, and then at a rolling boil until it reaches 221F on a candy thermometer.

While that’s happening you can strip the spikes off the other two sprigs of lavender, and chop them very finely. Watch the syrup carefully and stir a lot toward the end to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Add the strawberries and boil for 5-6 minutes until it sets when you put a few drops on a cold plate. Add the lavender and boil for another 30 seconds or so.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath for 10 minutes, or just keep in the fridge and eat.

Rating (out of 5)
5, or maybe even 6. A perfect taste of concentrated summer in a jar.

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