Can I make a shocking confession? I don't love strawberries. I mean, I don't hate them (it's not like they're oranges or anything); I like them fine. I just don't swoon for them in the way that so many others do, particularly at this time of year.
But I have gained a newfound respect for them after a recent visit to a strawberry farm down in Watsonville. The good folks over at Foodista let me write it up for them, so go check it out.
Ever since that visit, I've had berries on the brain. I can't ignore them as I walk through the markets. For someone who doesn't love them, I sure seem to have some kind of crush on them. If I were a schoolgirl, I'd be writing "Strawberries" over and over again in my Trapper Keeper. (Do kids still have Trapper Keepers? Am I dating myself? Though you have to admit, iPads do sort of look like a Star Trek -- TNG, not original -- interpretation of Trapper Keepers.)
Consequently, we've had a lot of strawberries in the house of late. Mostly, they find their way into our morning yogurt, perhaps alongside some banana and certainly with homemade granola, staving off scurvy for yet another day. But there isn't enough yogurt in the world to complement the bounty of strawberriness upon us. And so, as is my wont, I've been jamming.
But you know me, right? I'm just not content to let well enough be. There's no shortage of people in the world, or even in this condo, who are happy to eat just plain strawberry jam, but I'm not one of them. No, I just have to screw with it, just a little.
I already planned to add a little black pepper, as I adore the combination of berries and pepper, but then a Twitter friend recommended balsamic, and that appealed to my sensibilities very much indeed. And so a plan was hatched.
With one batch, I kept it just plain for the first half, then added some balsamic and pepper for the latter half, so I could compare apples to apples ... er, strawberries to strawberries. The regular strawberry jam was good: Bright, undeniably strawberry. But the adulterated batch was strawberry plus. Still strawberry, no mistaking, but with lingering and haunting notes that gave it a layer of sophistication.
Perhaps I can grow to love strawberries after all.
Strawberry jam with balsamic and black pepper
1400 g ripe strawberries, chopped
1400 g granulated sugar
1 lemon, cut into thick slices
1 packet pectin
1 Tbsp butter, to reduce foaming
1 tsp balsamic (the real deal, please)
several cracks fresh black pepper
In a large, heavy, nonreactive Dutch oven or stockpot, combine the berries, lemon and sugar, and let stand to macerate at least 20 minutes. (Due to an unfortunate lack of pre-planning, I ended up starting this process the day before, leaving the mixture in the fridge until the next morning when I could procure lids for my jars. The longer you leave the fruit to macerate, the more liquid it will give off, making for a thinner jam.)
Place the pot over medium-high heat. Add the butter and pectin. Bring to a full boil, skimming away any foam that forms. Stir frequently, and use a quick-read thermometer to track the temperature until it reaches a consistent reading of 220ºF. Remove the slices of lemon, and add the balsamic and pepper, and stir to mix thoroughly.
Can (water-bath is fine) or freeze as desired. Will keep in the fridge for weeks if not months.
I would probably not turn away a piece of Matt's strawberry shortcake.
Susan's got the full lowdown on how to select, store and serve everyone (else's) favorite springtime fruit.
Don't forget to read my piece on Foodista. I said go!