Side Dish: Farmer’s Market (February 1, 2010)

What do the following things have in common?
– A parking lot full of hybrid cars.
– A homeless man holding a sign: “Will Work for Organic Food.”
– Ads for a locavore speed dating service.
– A t-shirt that says: “Shake the Hand that Feeds You.”

Give up? They are all things I’ve seen at local farmers markets. I’m always struck by the amazing cross-section of people you’ll see strolling through farmer’s markets: yuppies next to hippies, the celebrated head chef next to the culinary weekend warrior. Take a minute and find the farmer’s market near you (www.localharvest.org is a good place to start) and taste the difference that fresh ingredients make.)

My favorite market is the colorful one held every Sunday in Hollywood where you get a free side of crazy with your persimmons. Last Sunday I met my good friend Kevin West (“the other Kevin” as my husband calls him) there. While we perused all the yummy freshness, we came across strawberries and rhubarb that were dying to be made into jam.

Now if you’ve never made jam I know what you’re thinking, but I promise making jam is no big deal. You’ll swear off Smuckers after just one spoonful. So in the words of the immortal Bob Marley: “We’re jammin’.” And I hope you like jammin’ too.

SCOTTY’S STRAWBERRY RHUBARB JAM

INGREDIENTS
2 lbs strawberries, the smaller the better
1 lb rhubarb — about 16-18 stalks
3 cups organic granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 tablespoon lemon juice (approximately the juice from 1/2 lemon)
Optional: 1 tablespoon St. Germain elderflower liquor

TECHNIQUE
1 — Quickly rinse strawberries, cut away the stems and quarter each berry. Place in a large mixing bowl, cover with the sugar and set aside.

2 — Peel the rhubarb stalks, which have strings similar to celery. You can either use a vegetable peeler or run a very sharp knife just beneath the surface, or just grab the strings from one end of the stalk and zip them off, then repeat from the other end of the stalk. Cut the peeled rhubarb into 1/2″ cubes. Add to the mixing bowl with berries and sugar. Stir the mixture well, then set aside to macerate for at least an hour.

3 — After an hour’s rest, the sugar will have drawn copious juice from the fruit. Pour the fruit-sugar mixture into a wide kettle like a stew pot, something large enough that the fruit-sugar mixture is no more than a few inches deep. (Make sure the pot is scrupulously clean.) Toss in the vanilla bean and bring everything to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring vigorously all the while to break down the fruit.

4 — Once the mixture boils and begins to foam, reduce the heat to maintain a steady but manageable boil. Continue stirring and cook for 5-8 minutes as the syrup begins to reduce.

5 — When the syrup has noticeably thickened, add the St. Germain liquor if you’re using it. Cook about 5 minutes longer until your jam is thick and glossy. At this point, turn off the heat and test the consistency by dipping a chilled spoon into the mixture. Hold up the spoon and tilt it on its edge. The last few drops to fall away should cling thickly to the bottom edge of the spoon. You can also test for consistency by letting a single drop of syrup fall onto a plate you’ve chilled in the freezer. When your jam is ready, the drop will “bead” on the cold plate rather than flattening out. Or, finally, you can drop a teaspoon of jam on a cold plate and place it in the freezer for 90 seconds. If it comes out thick and with a slight “skin” on the surface, then you know you’re achieved a “jell set.” In other words, now you have jam.

6 — Finally, skim any foam from the surface of the hot jam and stir in the lemon juice. Taste! You can add another drop of lemon or liquor if you want, but you can’t add more sugar at this point. The finished jam will keep in a covered container in the fridge for 2 weeks (although it won’t last that long – it’s too good!).
7 — If you know how to can using the boiling-water bath process and want to “put up” your jam: ladle the hot jam into clean, hot half-pint mason jars (available at most hardware stores) and seal with the manufacturer’s lid. Process the sealed jars in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes, then promptly remove and place on a clean dishrag on the counter for 12 hours. If the lids seal properly (follow manufacturer’s instructions), the jam can be safely stored in the cupboard for up to one year.
The classic use for strawberry jam is of course on breakfast toast or a PB&J, but it’s also delicious over ice cream, stirred into unflavored yogurt or served with a dollop of creme fraiche and an almond cookie as a simple dessert.