Jam Making: True Confessions of a Locavore

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A couple months back, Market Manager Martha and I were invited to teach a cooking class at the Playa Vista Public Library. Our class was scheduled in the after-school bracket, and we were encouraged to make it accessible for kids and engaging for adults. We settled on strawberry jam with thyme and honey. Strawberries are almost always in season, and jam is easy to make-- but the honey and thyme in this recipe lends a sophistication that just begs to be paired with a bloomy rind cheese.

We decided to get our strawberries from C&L, thyme from Backyard Organic, our honey from LSG, and a lemon (to balance out the flavor) from Pedro's.

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Pectin, a fiber found in the cell walls of many plants, is what gives jams their sticky consistency. Strawberries don't have much—but apples do! We got apples from YNT and practiced simmering their peels until our jam jelled, and the strawberry-honey-thyme balance was something we wanted to show off. We and our jam were set. 

And then it started raining… torrentially

Many foodies (of which, I'm one) will tell you to never wash a strawberry. With a thin, porous skin, they're basically little fruit sponges. When they get washed, or rained on, they fill up with water and go bland. But when they are rained on for days on end, their flavor wains, and drains, and then the fruit just rots. After five days of heavy rains, there wasn't a fresh pint of strawberries to be found... And we just couldn't bring supermarket strawberries to a farmers market cooking class! We were beginning to despair, and then we checked our freezers! 

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Together, we had enough frozen strawberries to make a large batch of jam! Whats more, having been frozen at their prime, they were bursting with flavor. Eight showed up for our jam making class in the library, and after stirring and chopping, each took home a jar of local jam: because we planned ahead.

It's April again, and—again—it's easy to be a locavore. The sun is shining, she skies are blue, and artichokes and asparagus are popping up in farmers' markets. This is the time—just weeks from winter—to think of the future. This week at the farmers’ market, I’m planning to buy an extra pint of strawberries, an extra bunch of asparagus, and an extra bag of fava beans, to pickle or preserve or stick in the freezer for a rainy day. Being a locavore doesn't have to mean going without. You can have your favorite produce all year long (and eat it too), as long as you prepare.

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STRAWBERRY THYME JAM

Adapted from thekitchn.com

Makes 1 pint

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 quart organic strawberries (approximately 3 cups)

  • 3/4 cup honey

  • 5 sprigs thyme

  • Peels from two organic apples

  • Squeeze of lemon

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Place a saucer or small plate in the freezer

  2. Wipe strawberries with damp towel (avoid rinsing if possible). De-stem strawberries, halve them and crush them with your fingers.

  3. Peel apples (aim for broad, thick peels that will be easy to remove from the jam later)

  4. Strip thyme leaves from stem

  5. Put strawberries, honey, apple peels, thyme and lemon in copper or stainless steel pot over high heat. Mash with potato masher until strawberries are evenly smashed

  6. Bring to a bubble and cook over high heat for 6-10 minutes, stirring often. If you have a candy thermometer, we are looking for the jam to reach 210ᵒ, if not perform the plate test!

  7. (This trick comes from jam master Jessica Koslow’s cookbook, “Everything I want to Eat, Sqirl and the New California Cooking.”) Spoon a dollop of jam on a frozen saucer and put it back in the freezer for one minute. Swipe your finger through the jam. If the jam parts and does not run back together — it’s ready! If not, keep put the plate back in the freezer, keep cooking the jam, try again in a few minutes.

  8. When the plate test tells you you’re done, pick apple peels out of jam with a fork, and funnel hot jam into a clean pint jar. Your jam will keep for months in the fridge!

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Aubrey Yarbrough manages the Playa Vista, Westwood and Hermosa Beach Farmers' Markets for Farmer Mark. Before moving to LA she ran her own organic farm and cooked on the garde manger station at the award winning Elements restaurant in Princeton, NJ. She has contributed to Edible Jersey and her poetry will appear in the forthcoming issue of New American Writing.