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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Strawberry, Lemon and Ginger Jam

Paired with goat cheese.

You may have noticed that I am a little vague about my actual canning methodology. I have posted a link to the USDA home preserving web site and they have the latest information on safety practices that are tested and approved. Problem is, people have been preserving food for millenia without the mod cons we enjoy today. When I began to read about botulism, I was appalled! I had been canning plum and pineapple jam for years and giving it as gifts and (apparently) it was potentially unsafe! My mom taught me that if you sterilize the jars, lids and equipment and the jam is boiling and the jars seal, it's fine. Turns out this is true for high acid jams and jellies with plenty of sugar to help preserve them. I was fascinated to learn that as late as the early 20th century jams were simply covered with oil cloth. That is why we still see gift jars decorated with fabric tied over the lid. I'm grateful to have so many historical cookbooks that offer insight into the ways foods were preserved before the USDA was even invented.

I'm glad for the information I've learned about food safety. I don't want anyone to get so much as an owie tummy from my preserves. But I also want to keep an open mind. My botulism paranoia nearly caused me to bypass a beautiful book created by a woman who tested her processes for 10 years. I'm talking about The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders. I had browsed her book at the book store and thought, "Oh my, she uses copper pots! Isn't that reactive? Is copper good for you?" Also, "Wow! She's processing her jars in the oven, not in the boiling water bath? Is that safe? Is that approved?" (Picture Rabbit from Winnie-the-Pooh wringing his hands as you read these worrisome questions.) When my friend Katy asked me if I had heard of Blue Chair, I said, "Oh yes, but her methods are controversial." (Clearly, they are not controversial enough to concern her local health department! )

What made me change my mind? I saw Rachel Saunders on a Cooking Channel show. I saw her passion for her creations. I saw her respect for the fruit. I saw that she knew what she was talking about! I also learned that many of her approaches were shaped by the time she lived in France. I realized, with some chagrin, that I had been programmed to obey the USDA without question. Don't get me wrong, they offer dependable information that will keep you safe. But, there is a whole world of people who grow, prepare, preserve and eat food without the benefit of the USDA. I must not dismiss methods or ideas out of hand simply because they do not fall under the USDA guidelines.

I have since purchased and used Ms. Saunder's superb book. It is filled with beautiful and useful photographs that illuminate the steps of jam and jelly making. The information is sophisticated and thorough. Even though it looks like a coffee table book, I think it would be an excellent book for a beginner.

This Strawberry, Lemon and Ginger Jam is adapted from Blue Chair's recipe for Strawberry-Rose Geranium Jam. I used the same proportions and methods, but substituted 1/3 cup (packed) of chopped candied ginger for the rose geranium flowers. She doesn't list lemon in the title, but I think the lemon flavor is quite forward and so chose to include it. The bright strawberry color and aroma are enhanced by the lemon and the ginger adds a warm finish.

Strawberry, Lemon and Ginger Jam
4 lbs. hulled strawberries
2 1/2 lbs. sugar
7 oz. lemon juice
1/3 cup finely diced candied ginger (packed)

Day 1
Place the strawberries, lemon juice, ginger and sugar in a large non-reactive bowl and stir. Cover and store in the fridge overnight. Stir occasionally.

Day 2
Prepare jars and lids and boiling water bath- I wash them and all my equipment in very hot soapy water in a very clean sink. I then place the jars on a cookie sheet and place them in a preheated 250 degree oven for at least 20 minutes. I prepare the lids by placing the lids inside the rings and putting them in a sauce pan. I cover them with water and place them on the stove on the lowest flame.

Place a saucer with several teaspoons in the freezer. (This is one of her methods that I will now adopt. I had been spooning the jam onto saucers from the freezer, but I like this spoon method better.)

Transfer the strawberry mixture to a large sauce pot. Use the largest one you have because this jam will foam a lot! Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat slightly, but continue a vigorous boil and stir frequently to prevent sticking on the bottom. Keep a close watch to prevent boil-over from the foam. Place a thermometer in the jam and as the temp approaches 220 degrees, the foam should subside and the jam should appear darker and more glossy. Begin to test for set. Reduce heat and scoop a small spoonful of jam out with one of the spoons from the freezer. Place the spoon back in the freezer for a few minutes. When the jam has cooled, test the texture. If it does not run easily off the spoon and mounds up when you push it, it is done. If it is not ready yet, increase the heat and boil for a few minutes more and repeat the test.

When the jam is ready, remove it from the heat and skim any remaining foam. Allow the jam to cool for about 5 minutes and stir gently to distribute the fruit. Use a funnel to ladle the jam into the hot jars. Wipe the rims and cover with the lids and rings. Do not over tighten the lids. Carefully place in the boiling water bath and process for 10 minutes. Remove to a towel lined tray and allow to cool overnight. The next day, check the seals and label. Makes about 8 half-pints.

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