Now is the moment when the markets are brimming with fresh produce. Early tomatoes are coming in (try pickling the green ones with last week’s technique). Brilliant green lettuces are beginning to give way to heartier greens like kale or Chinese broccoli with their delicate little yellow flowers.
When choosing the freshest, best produce available, you want to trust your nose, eyes, and fingertips. Don’t be afraid to touch your produce, sniff the baskets at your local farmer’s stall, and judge a book by its cover.
There is no question right now that the most alluring basket award at the local market’s goes to the first strawberries of the season. Again, don’t be afraid to pick through the basket to make sure that you’re filling up on the very best berries. You want a brilliant red color, soft, but firm fruit and of course, they must be aromatic.
To make certain that every bit of their flavor is kept in your larder for as long as possible, the best way to preserve them is to make a little bit of jam. I especially like to push the flavor over the edge with the addition of a little spirit. Pimm’s is an English liqueur that has a strawberry and herbal flavor. Adding a bit of Pimm’s in with the jam heightens the strawberry flavor, lets you back off on the sugar you use, and accentuates that unadulterated strawberry peak season flavor.
Super Strawberry Jam
1 ½ pints fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 Meyer lemon
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup Pimm’s
Pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)
Zest and juice lemon.
Using a very sharp paring knife, create a divot around the top of the strawberry stem, discard stem. If you prefer a smoother jam, quarter berries.
Combine lemon juice, Pimm’s, and sugar in a heavy-bottomed, medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Add berries and zest to pot, combine and bring to a boil, reduce heat, and allow to simmer (gently bubbling) for 1 ½ hours. Stir occasionally. The jam will reduce and thicken. Skim any pink foam off the top. Discard foam if you’re heartless, or taste to your heart’s content.
Keep a small plate in the freezer. The jam is done with a teaspoon is placed on the frozen plate and it takes on the desired consistency.