True strawberries – and by that, I mean strawberries that are locally grown and begin to ripen to perfection in early June – are just a fleeting moment in the landscape of summer. Lasting only two to three weeks, they are deeply red to the core, and drenched with sweet, sunny flavor.
More and more I realize that these ephemeral moments are something to protect and preserve. Perhaps that’s why I have gravitated towards home canning. A spoonful of homemade jam from a jar evokes a whole raft of memories. It goes far beyond capturing the sweet flavor of the fruit.
It recalls the sun on your back and the sweat on your brow as you walk through the fields at Restoration Farm. It’s the buzzing of honeybees and the glimpse of a red-winged blackbird. It’s the conversations with friends in the field, and the reminder that despite the fact that a growing season is always advancing towards an autumnal finale, time just seems to move a little more slowly at the farm.
It’s been a glorious start to summer, and a strawberry jam project was inevitable. The strawberries come from Restoration Farm’s Glenn Aldridge, who this year cultivated a separate field of strawberries at the Old Hewlett Apple Orchard in Old Bethpage Village Restoration, which he’s been restoring and cultivating for several years now.
It is hardly hyperbole to say that you can taste Glenn’s caring nature in these beautiful berries. He gives me far more berries than the recipe requires, so my kitchen becomes the site of a strawberry jamboree.
To prepare the jam, I use my Ball Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker, which is calibrated to cook at just the right temperature. The reduced sugar recipe is formulated specifically for use with this device, and contains more fruit and more intense strawberry flavor.
As the jam simmers, my memory is at work. The aroma of warm strawberries instantly transport me to summers past, enjoying hot popovers slathered with jam on the banks of Jordan Pond at Acadia National Park.
The final yield is eight jars of memories in two varieties – Strawberry Vanilla Jam infused with vanilla bean, and Strawberry Lemon Jam spiked with lemon zest.
I leave you with this poem – given to me by my mom – written by Bea Lotz, which nicely captures the essence of strawberry jam in a quilted crystal glass jar:
Sugared Summer in a jar,
To spread on Winter nights,
Rich layerings of sunshine
Of golden day delights.
Preserved now…lazy afternoons
With droning bumblebees,
Heavy berries bending low
And weighted, swollen trees.
Preserved for when the snow drifts,
When wind howls at the door –
Within each sticky spoonful,
Bright Summer lives once more.
-- Bea Lotz
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