Strawberries have always had a special place in my heart. From being a “strawberry-blonde,” to wild strawberries at my grandparents’ lake house in Georgia, to the row of strawberries my great-grandmother had in her garden in Bethel, NC, to the frozen strawberries and freezer jam my grandmother makes every year. We eat that stuff on everything from her biscuits, to her strawberry shortcake (basically, just a big pancake version of her biscuits,) to our cereal and sometimes just off the spoon.
She picks boatloads of strawberries every year, either at regional farms, or buys them from roadside fruit stands. When I was younger and my great-grandmother was still alive and growing her patch, all our berries and jam came from her garden. It was always something I took for granted when going to visit ‘Nanny & Pappaw’; that and her most excellent baked macaroni. And as I got older and started delving into the world of food and cooking and meal prep and then into food preservation, I finally came to Nanny and asked if we could make jam together. Let me just say, there are many memories I have with my grandmother; riding in the car with my grandparents to the lake house when I was but a wee lass and singing such family hits as ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and ‘Baby Beluga’ for the entire 2 hour drive out, making little marbles out of pieces of bread and throwing them to the fish and ducks off the side of the dock, fanning out over the top of my bed one of the many hand-sewn quilts that she’s produced in her lifetime and watching her show off her ‘buck-dancin’ skills in the kitchen to old gospel or bluegrass music. And there are many more memories I want to create with her and my Pappaw; recording our history and forming a family tree from the 4 or so generations back that they can relate, finding our way together to the top of the ridge where hang gliders set off to soar down over the lake, and to finish a patchwork quilt I started with her from her assortment of old scraps last year.
When it comes to food, Nanny and Pappaw like what they’ve always liked and I can always count on the same foods when I go to stay with them. And one of those old standbys is her strawberry freezer jam. Just Sure-Jell pectin dissolved in boiling water, strawberries and sugar, all that mixed well and dumped in freezer containers and down to the chest freezer in the basement along with frozen berries, frozen sweet corn and black walnuts that they crack every year on an anvil beneath the house. Easy peasy and reliable.
That’s strawberry jam with my grandmother. Jam has many other faces when it comes into my kitchen (whichever kitchen I happen to be inhabiting at the time.) Lavender-blackberry was a favorite last year, yellow tomato jam turned out a bit too set but the flavor was sweet and complex and the wild blackberry jam (aforementioned) is a great go-to with the pectin-rich tarties. This summer, my strawberry picking has been waylaid a bit as the farms I’ve stayed on either haven’t grown strawberries or they weren’t producing yet. I am overjoyed to say that on August 4th, I finally picked my first strawberry. And along with that one about 4 pints more – 2 of which made it to the baskets. When I got home I knew I wanted to preserve them somehow and jam is my go-to method. I had some ripe apricots from the farmer’s market sitting on the counter and had recently seen a salad recipe with strawberries and balsamic vinegar. Lightbulb! Strawberry-Balsamic Jam with Apricots!
A box of Pomona’s in hand, I mashed together 4 cups of fruit in a large bowl, added a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and threw that into a pot to slowly come to a boil with 2 tablespoons of the calcium water mixed in. Meanwhile I mixed 3/4c of evaporated cane juice with 2 teaspoons of the pectin and once the fruit had reached a boil, dumped it in and stirred for a good minute to incorporate the pectin thoroughly. Then into sterilized 4 oz. jars I ladled the jam, wiped the rims clean and situated the simmered lids on top, wound the screw lids on and set them upside down on the windowsill to seal and set.
Delicious; not-too-sweet with a good taste of the innocence of strawberries and the rounded, earth-fruit-almost-persimmon taste of the apricots melded with the subtle rich, tanginess the balsamic the offers – this makes for a very grown up jam indeed. Enjoyed on a bagel, waffle or hearty grain toast. Or you just might juxtapose it with peanut butter between 2 fluffy pieces of sandwich bread. You’re an adult, you choose.