Thursday, June 30, 2011

Strawberry Jam

I couldn’t let June go by, let all the strawberries ripen, without making at least one batch of strawberry jam. So yesterday I did. It’s not the strawberry-jalapeno jam a customer told me about Tuesday night; it’s not the balsamic strawberry jam I saw in a cookbook at the library on Monday; it’s just plain old strawberry jam made from the recipe in the Sure-Jell box. It’s the kind of strawberry jam you’re happy to take out of the pantry and spread on toast when the snow has long since covered the garden.
Strawberries are on the very, very low end of the pectin spectrum, so as much as I like the idea of just using fruit and sugar and maybe some lemon juice, my fear of the jam not setting is greater. To allay my fears I decided to turn to boxed pectin. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any in the cabin, but with some searching and climbing of ladders Y. was able to find several packages of Sure-Jell For Lower Sugar in the barn.
Inside the Sure-Jell For Lower Sugar box was a sheet of recipes for fruit jams and jellies, both cooked and frozen, and a set of instructions. I understand that in jam making, as in baking, precise measurement is important, but the instructions in the Sure-Jell package make you think that your kitchen might blow up if you add even one granule too much sugar. They use bold type; bold, red type; bold, red, ALL CAPS type; bold, red, ALL CAPS type that they then highlight. It’s enough to put one off jam making altogether, especially when all of one’s (my) measuring cups and spoons are locked safe in a seafaring container at the bottom of the hill. I decided that I wasn’t sending anyone to outer space in my jam, so measuring my sugar in a mason jar and weighing my strawberries by means of a rudimentary scale composed of a bicycle tube box, a piece of wood and a can of scungilli would probably be good enough. Judging by the results—delicious, perfectly set jam—one doesn't have to be quite as EXACT (red, bold, highlighted) as they lead one to believe.

Strawberry Jam

Adapted from the Sure-Jell For Lower Sugar instructions

  • 6 cups quartered and crushed strawberries,
  • about 3 pounds unprepared fruit
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 box Sure-Jell For Lower Sugar
  • Wash and sterilize enough jars to hold 8 cups jam. Pour boiling water over dome lids and allow to soak, off heat, until ready to use.
  • Core and quarter strawberries, then mash them with either a fork or potato masher. If some pieces don't get crushed, that's okay--it's nice to have some recognizable pieces of strawberry in the finished jam. Measure out six cups of fruit and place in large, heavy-bottomed, nonreactive pot.
  • Measure out sugar. Mix 1/4 cup of it with one package pectin and combine this mixture with fruit. Bring this mixture to a full rolling boil (one that won't stop bubbling when stirred) over high heat, stirring constantly. Add remaining sugar and bring back to a full rolling boil, still stirring constantly. Allow to boil 1 minute. Remove from heat and skim off any foam.
  • Give it another stir, then ladle into prepared jars, leaving 1/8-1/4 inch of headroom. Wipe off rims and threads and place lids and rings on jars, tightening only finger tight. Place jars on a rack in a canner, if you have one, or a very large pot, if you don't, and cover by 1-2 inches with water. Bring water to a gentle boil. After 10 minutes remove jars and place on a towel to cool. The lids should make a satisfying pop within minutes, indicating that they've sealed. Store in a cool, dark place; refrigerate after opening.
Now that I have preserved a taste of June to open in December or February, when I'll really need it, I might risk trying a batch of Sure-Jell free strawberry jam. Besides, if it doesn't set, it will still taste just as good stirred into yoghurt or spooned over ice cream.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Strawberry Spinach Salad

The strawberries are ripening now and we have eaten at least a quart of them straight from the garden unadorned, unadulterated, unembellished. They're perfect that way in all their red glory, but if you can muster the patience and will power to cut them up and add them to a dish, your efforts will not go unrewarded.
I was all set to have a go at Ovenette biscuits and to macerate some berries in sugar and Cointreau, but when I was weeding the garlic I noticed the spinach was just begging to be picked. Hmm, I thought, how 'bout a spinach and strawberry salad? A crumble of feta, a grind of pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, and a splash of vinegar later my salad was ready.
It is a very simple salad, but too much refinement, I think, would rob it of its charm. Like this, each ingredient shines on its own, while also complimenting the other elements. The crispy green-ness of the spinach remains intact and contrasts well with the juicy sweetness of the strawberries and the salty creaminess of the cheese.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

A delicate late spring salad

  • 1 handful spinach per salad
  • 3-4 strawberries per salad
  • a small piece feta or chèvre per salad
  • freshly ground pepper
  • coarse salt
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • vinegar of your choice
  • Double, triple, quadruple wash spinach to remove any trace of dirt/sand/grit. If the leaves are small enough, leave them whole, if not you probably shouldn't use them for salad anyway. Cut strawberries in quarters and set aside. Arrange spinach leaves and strawberries on plate in some attractive manner. Crumble cheese, grind pepper, and sprinkle salt over the top. Drizzle oil and splash vinegar over salad, being careful not to drown it, and serve.
I ate my salad for lunch with a couple Wasa sesame flatbreads, though I think a nice piece of monkfish would have done it better justice.

Friday, June 17, 2011

June is for Strawberries

This is what hope looks like. This is why I get up in the morning. This is why I dream at night. This is why I leave the shopping on the porch and go for a walk in the garden before I unlock the front door. This is next Wednesday's breakfast. This is frozen strawberry soufflé in waiting. This is the reason I needed to attempt making biscuits in the Ovenette. This is why you stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I find it difficult to fathom things that are very, very, very old. My mind goes into a sort of warp and I end up feeling small, inconsequential. I didn’t know until this morning that radishes could have this effect on me. Turns out they’re old. Very, very, very old. Nine-millennia-of-human-cultivation old. So old that no one is quite sure of their origins. So old their wild ancestor has disappeared into those proverbial mists.
And yet, every spring they seem brand new. They’re one of the simplest and most gratifying things to grow. They sprout out of the ground after a few days and they’re ready to eat in a matter of weeks. In fact, waiting on radishes is not rewarded. As Waverly Root tells us, “radishes have to be harvested young, as soon as they become edible. An old radish is a worthless radish—woody, usually wormy and frequently hollow in the center.”
Adding to their charm is that radishes require no more preparation than a wash and a trim and a sprinkle of salt. Though I love them in salads, where they add both color and flavor and while they can be cooked or pickled, I have to agree with Alan Davidson when he suggests that “perhaps the most satisfactory way to eat them is to hold what is left of the green stalk between one’s fingers, rub the radish over a piece of butter, dip it in salt (as Evelyn, 1699, remarked, it brings its own pepper!), and eat it with bread and butter.”
I’m not sure that William Wallace Irwin had this in mind when he called radishes “gay and playful,” but carved into mice they’re just too cute and the perfect garnish for a cheese plate.

Radish Mice

Inspired by Y.

  • as many radishes as you want mice
  • cold water
  • Wash radishes and trim off the greens, leaving a bit of a 'nose' behind. Clean the 'tail', removing most of the tendrils coming off the main root. Using a paring knife, make two slits on either side of the radish where a mouse's ears would be. Repeat on remaining radishes. Soak in cold water for an hour or so, or until the ears stick out. When ready to use, cut a strip off the 'belly' of the mouse so that it will stand up instead of rolling on its side.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Cool as a Cuke: A Cocktail

Now that we can officially wear white shoes again, we can start talking about the official drinks of summer. The classics still stand, of course. I would never say no to a gin and tonic, nor turn down a mojito, nor a Pims No. 1 cup, nor any sort of fruity rum drink. This summer, however, I feel I am going to be drinking a preponderance of vodka-cucumber drinks.
Sometime in April a sparkling cucumber beverage sold in 7-ounce green glass bottles, catchily named Mr. Q Cumber, appeared on the shelves of the discount wing of the Co-op. Y. bought a couple just to try. At 2 for 99¢ the risk was not great and immediately paid off. After the first sip we decided we needed a case of the stuff; once we learned that it normally retails at over two dollars a bottle, we bought three.

Cool as a Cuke

makes one drink

  • 1 five-count pour vodka
  • 1 7-ounce bottle Mr. Q Cumber
  • ice
  • cucumber peel or slices for garnish
  • Fill a 16-ounce glass with 4-5 cubes of ice. Pour vodka over ice, counting out five seconds as you pour. Fill glass with Mr. Q Cumber (the entire bottle should bring drink to the top of the glass). Garnish with cucumber peel or slices and serve. To make peel into a curl, twist around your finger or a chopstick and hold for a few seconds.
Nothing compares to standing in the garden in the middle of summer eating a cucumber straight off the vine, getting a practical understanding of the expression “cool as a cucumber.” Mr. Q Cumber has, however, come as close as possible to bottling this experience. It’s bubbly and refreshing and not too sweet, containing no HFCS, and actually tastes like cucumbers. Mixed with either gin or preferably vodka (the cucumber flavor is more apparent) it makes the perfect summer cocktail. Cheers!