Things take longer than you imagine. Particularly if, like me, you are prone to optimistic forecasts. The paper draft will be done in May, then June, now July. Canning strawberry jam will just take the afternoon, then evening, then the following morning. Tasks expand to fill the available, and even the unavailable, time.
I have a big project due in May next year, but with a large enough fire lit under my ass, I might just get it done on time. Similarly, with strawberry jam, enough flame and the fruit soup thickens quickly. Too little, and you find yourself cooking it down for an extra hour. Too much and you risk burning the jam, or burning out on work. With jam as with life, it is a fine balance.
We went strawberry picking on Saturday afternoon. The heat in the fields was so strong, I got a long head rush when I stood up. I can't imagine picking berries day in day out under these conditions, bending over until your hamstrings are tight and your back hurts -- but people do exactly that.
When we got back, late in the afternoon, I was tired. Too tired for jam making. So we just thinly sliced some lemons and put them in a bowl with some berries and sugar for overnight intermingling. I went out and gathered the herbs I'd need for the next day -- thai basil and cilantro from the store, and mint from a small pot. That was all I could manage.
But by the morning, there was jam to be making. And the day's heat and ripe berries wait for no woman.
The recipe claimed the jam cooking would be 5 mins here, 20 minutes there, a quick 15 to finish it off. A 10:30 start time on a Sunday seemed respectable. But by 12:30, the jam was still bubbling away, more berries than spread. The cat looked on amused, but I was not. It was starting to get humid. The fruit flies were gathering. And yet, the jam bubbled at it's own pace, letting the day pass on by.
There are deadlines and then there are things that happen when the time is right. Jam making is no doubt a member of the second set. Jam is ready when it's ready. The recipe might say one thing, but your berries, pot and heat will say another. This is kairos time.
Despite the unexpected timing, the recipe comes from an excellent book, Canning for a New Generation, evidently related to this blog. The book is great because it's full of interesting flavors you wouldn't have thought to pair: peaches, almonds and lemon thyme; raspberry with mint and lavender; and this, strawberry with eclectic, thai herbs. (The lemon and strawberry preserves mentioned above also come from this book.)
And yes, the jam is delicious. Even better with accidentally-clotted cream and scones. We have already eaten one quarter-pint jar, and I'm regretting freezing as many berries as we did. We could have made another couple jars.
There's still one more week of strawberry picking left, my friends, perhaps even two. The time is ripe for jam making. It is indeed kairos time. So take to the fields, then take to the kitchen. Seize the early summer while you can: it waits for no man.
Strawberry Jam with Herbs
Adapted from Canning for a New Generation.
Makes 8 1/4 pint jars
9 cups of clean strawberries diced (3 pounds)
1 1/2 cups of sugar
3 tablespoons of fresh + strained or bottled lemon juice
2 tablespoons of cilantro
1.5 tablespoons of thai basil
1 tablespoon of mint (I used chocolate mint; use whatever you have)
1 tablespoon of lemon zest
1. Follow a proper recipe for water bath canning unless you know what you're doing (e.g. sterilizing jars and lids and all that jazz.) There are tons online or you can get a book.
2. Put the strawberries and sugar into a large, ideally wide pot to aid in evaporating all that water. Bring to simmer and stir stir stir. Cook for about 5 minutes. Then pour the mixture into a colander with a bowl underneath it to catch the liquid and separate it from the fruit.
3. Return the liquid to the pot and cook down boiling over high heat for 20 minutes until it reduces to around 1 + 1/2 cups. Something like it cuts in half. Or, if you're like me, and fear the high heat boil, put it over medium heat and fret and worry that you might be smelling burning, letting a solid hour pass until it seems thickened enough.
4. Put the fruit you set aside back into the pot with your thickened syrup. Add the lemon juice. Bring to a simmer. Stir frequently for about 25 minutes. If you're lucky, and bold enough with the heat, it will somehow only take 15. You know it's ready when a chilled plate from the freezer with a dab of jam, after being returned to the freezer for a minute, seems thickened and jam-like. If it's sliding around post 1-minute freezer, it needs more time. In the meantime, get the boiling water ready for canning.
5. Turn off the heat, add the herbs and lemon zest and stir it all in. Process the jam in the boiling water for 5 minutes, leaving the requisite 1/4 inch space at the top of each jar. Let rest for 12 hours. Make sure they sealed by trying to push down on each lid. But really, get some solid advice on canning if you haven't done it before -- this book is a great place to start. Canning is fun, and worth trying, and infinitely less dangerous than you might assume.
6. Eat the jam, wondering if a single jar will make it to autumn.