I promised some folks—including my mother—a recipe for strawberry rhubarb muffins. Muffins that behave like shortcakes. Muffins that are really quite wonderful, and certainly worthy of a few hundred words.
I am sorry.
By now I am bored to tears with rhubarb and needed a break from the stalks. You might very well share a similar sentiment, after its commandeering gin entry and usurpation of leftover rose. When I realized I had very recently gone through four pounds of the plant and was choosing to clean my toilet over write about it again, I thought it time to fast-forward straight to strawberries.
So I have a recipe for you from a Frenchie instead. A fourth-generation pâtissier from Alsace named Christine Ferber. Her jams are packaged in red polka dot caps, tied with bows, and sold to people with deep pockets and sweet tooths.
But perhaps the best, simplest introduction to all this is that I’ve been waiting forty-nine weeks for the first quarts of strawberries to appear at the farmers’ market. And when they did, it was nary a full forty-eight hours before toast and jam made the breakfast menu.
It was also ninety degrees the day I planned to cook down the berries, which is de rigueur anytime I take on a summer project requiring a stovetop. Instead of behaving like a normal human, I set my alarm for six AM with the priggishness and pride of a Kamikaze pilot. Secretly hoping to outsmart the earth before it could heat up.
I didn’t. But I don’t regret it.
Making these preserves isn’t incredibly difficult, mind you. It does require an overnight advance. Plus being comfortable briefly turning your kitchen into a steam room—without the white towels and general nakedness. No one wins combining nudity and hot fruit.
But this jam is winning. It is madly strawberry, by both flavor and sight. Its small fruits remain intact, becoming jeweled and suspended by sugar.
Purists may scoff at the raspberry, balsamic, and black pepper additions. But they are there to add oomph to the berries and deepen their intensity. So just try not to think about it too much. Consider them a sweet, sanctioned form of cheating.
The preserves are particularly wonderful with cheese and spread on thick slices of buttered sourdough toast. And—I might add—are also quite fetching partnered with a political mug in the morning. Heck, they probably go well with nudity too.
But we won’t go there.
Ferber’s Strawberry Preserves
Adapted from Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber by way of butter tree
(790g) 1¾ pounds strawberries (about 1½ pounds once rinsed and hulled)
(800g) 4¼ cups sugar
juice of 1 lemon
(565g) 1¼ pounds fresh raspberries
1 tbsp plus 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
5 peppercorns, ground
Halve the strawberries (quarter large berries and leave the tiny ones whole so they are all about the same size). In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Cover with parchment paper and place in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, place a small plate with four or five small spoons in the freezer (you will use them to test the jam for doneness). In a small saucepan, combine the raspberries with 3½ ounces of water and bring to a boil. Cook a few minutes until the berries breakdown and then strain out the seeds through a wire mesh sieve to collect the juice. Discard the pulp or save for another use (see note).
Place the raspberry juice in a large heavy pot or saucepan. Using the same sieve, strain the strawberry juice into the same pot and set the berries aside. (You will likely have some residual sugar that stays with the berries, that’s okay, just try to get what you can in.)
Bring the juice to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming off the foam that forms on top. Cook until the jam reaches 221 degrees with a candy thermometer, or about 10 to 15 minutes, skimming occasionally. (Admittedly, my candy thermometer didn’t reach all the way into the pan so I half improvised with this.)
Add the strawberries to the pot and return to a boil then cook for 5 to 15 more minutes, occasionally skimming and stirring gently. To see if the preserves are ready, place a small amount on one of the spoons in your freezer and leave it in there; check after 1 minute. If you push the jam with your finger and it wrinkles a little, it’s ready. (Start checking after 5 minutes, it took me closer to 15.) If it is not ready, continue cooking the jam for a few more minutes and then test again.
When the jam is ready, turn off the heat and add in the balsamic and peppercorns. You could either process the jam in sterilized jars to can it or simply store what you won’t use up immediately in your freezer.
Makes about 2 pints.
-Look for smallest and sweetest smelling berries you can find.
-I reserved the raspberry seeds and used them as a receptacle when skimming the jam. The seeds are sweetened by the little bit of jam that is discarded as the foam is removed and this eases my guilt of throwing out food. I mixed a little in yogurt all week. You know, for the fiber.
-The peppercorns are easily ground with a mortar and pestle. It’s about a scant 1/8 tsp.