All I wanted for my birthday was to drink some good wine with good friends. And I did, which is why today I'm good for nothing.
However, in hopes of preventing this hung-over Sunday from being a complete waste, I have just sat myself down at the computer with a recuperative G&T at my side so that I can post a recipe for FANCY STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB JAM.
Why fancy? Because this is not my usual rustic farmhouse jam. This is a jam that I learned from Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections, who is the best jammer I know. Her sweet preserves are refined, intense and elegant. They're fancy.
What's curious is that the basic outlines of the recipe below are not so different than any other strawberry jam recipe you might find. But there is something about the way Valerie handles fruit and sugar that reenders her finished jams unique. I myself can't match it, and even when I think I'm doing things exactly the way she does, the results are different: mine is a little more earthy, a little less feminine perhaps. As I've said before, with jam as with sandwiches, the flavor is in the hands of the maker. You follow what I mean?
Valerie has a distinctive formula for making jam: she uses five pounds of fruit to four cups of sugar. (A cup of granulated sugar weighs 7 oz.) Often, in the moment, she'll decide to add even more fruit to a batch without increasing her four cups of sugar—so we're talking about jams with something like 25-30% sugar by weight to fruit. Compare that to your grandmother's recipe, which called for equal parts sugar and jam—100% sugar by weight to fruit. Incredible, right? I can truly say that Valerie has changed the way I think about the sugar content of jam.
As for technique, Valerie stirs her pot a lot. And sometimes at the end, she stirs it some more with a whisk. The result is that her sweet preserves are consistently smooth and, because she chooses not to reduce them too far, lightly gelled. She likes her jams to ooze around a plate. You might call them fruit spreads, although "spread" is such an ugly word I hesitate to use it. The French word pȃtes sounds about right to me, although the English equivalent, pastes, is also somehow icky.
Valerie just calls her strawberry-rhubarb preparation jam, and so I will follow suit.
Five pounds of fruit is a double batch by the standards of SAVING THE SEASON, and as longtime readers know, I don't encourage you to attempt a double batch at home. Valerie can do it because she's working with huge pots in her commercial kitchen. I can do it because I've bought some supersized pots after botching earlier attempts to make double (and triple and quadruple) batches. Big batches are hard, and I find that the more experience I gain, the more I'm inclined to work in small batches of two to three pounds of fruit. Unless you have a lot of jamming experience and a really big preserving pan—like 13" wide or so—do yourself a favor and halve the amounts of everything. Feel free to alter the ratio of berries to rhubarb to suit your taste.
I bought the rhubarb and berries—a mix of Chandler and Albion varieties—from Treviso Farm, who sell in Santa Monica on Wednesday and Studio City on Sunday. As usual, I went for the smallest berries I could find and these were "seconds"—the ugly fruits—which meant they were cheap but had good flavor.
It is the rhubarb, I suppose, that gives this preserve a lovely hint of rose. I think it would be a grand idea to enhance that quality by stirring in a few drops of rose water or swishing a crushed rose geranium leaf through the hot jam. Or if I let the jam stay a bit on the chunky side, I might even stir in a handful of fresh or dried rose petals from unsprayed bushes. Now that would be fancy, wouldn't it?
FANCY STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB JAM
2 pounds rhubarb, 7 cups cut in a rough dice
3 pounds strawberries, 9 cups cut as pictured ABOVE
4 cups sugar
zest 1/2 Meyer lemon
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
1 Prep rhubarb first: trim ends off stalks, cut into three-inch matchsticks, then make a rough dice as shown. (If working by weight, you don't have to dice the rhubarb; it's just to give you a better measure if working by volume.) Toss trimmed rhubarb with half the lemon juice, half the zest and half the sugar. Set aside to macerate.
2 While the rhubarb macerates, prep strawberries: rinse quickly, remove cap and cut into quarters or smaller equal parts. Toss with remaining lemon juice, zest and sugar and set aside.
3 Once the rhubarb-sugar mixture has begun to shed water—after a half-hour or more—turn into a preserving pan, and cook over a medium flame for 10 minutes, stirring vigorously all the while, until rhubarb has begun to soften.
4 Add strawberries and, continuing to stir vigorously, reduce over a lively flame to the jell point. This should take about 10 minutes—but don't worry if it requires longer on your stove. If you want a finer, more consistent texture, you can really break up the remaining fruit chunks during the last two minutes with a wire whisk.
5 Ladle hot jam into prepared half-pint jars, seal and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.
5 pounds of fruit yielded 4 pints jam
5 x 8 oz
6 x 4 oz