I've been finding myself irresistibly drawn to the idea of simplicity. Afternoons spent lying in the grass reading a book, evenings spent at home watching the sunset, outfits comprised of nothing but a dress and some sandals. It makes sense in the summertime, when the days themselves are so perfect barely anything is required to make them enjoyable.
Naturally, this philosophy has extended to my food choices as well. Lately, the meals I've been preparing have been almost sparse in their lack of ingredients and preparation. Tomatoes dressed with nothing but olive oil and salt (not even lemon or vinegar), peaches eaten over the sink with juice dribbling everywhere, the insane pistachio sorbet from Scream, which boasts just four perfect ingredients.
Oh, and the strawberry jam from Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain. I've been making it weekly.
With just two ingredients (three if you add a flavoring), this jam is the essence of simplicity. It starts with perfect summer strawberries, plus a bit of sugar cooked briskly over high heat, and somehow ends up tasting more like perfect summer strawberries. This is nothing short of a true blessing when you live just a short walk away from the Lakeshore Farmer's Market, where they sell the most perfect summer strawberries.
When the jam is done cooking, you can either leave it as is or enhance it with different flavorings. We tried stirring the finished product with sprigs of oregano as the book suggested but found that the sticky jam just got stuck in all the leaves and in the end, we couldn't actually taste the oregano anyway. But we absolutely loved it with some grated lime zest. The acidity in the lime added just the right amount of acidity to perk up the strawberries, and was more exotic and complex than the traditional pairing of lemon with strawberry.
Strawberry Lime Jam (adapted from Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain)
I always thought jam was complicated, demanding strange ingredients like fruit pectin and requiring proper canning and about one-million steps. But this jam is literally, one of the easiest things I've ever made. It's even easier than the non I told you about a couple of weeks ago. As if it wasn't already easy enough, I halved the recipe to make it even easier (less hulling and less cooking time!). And you know what? I like the halved recipe even better. The strawberries hold more of their shape and the whole thing ends up almost more like a chutney or a compote than a jam.
-1.5 lbs strawberries, hulled (we used Chandler strawberries that we bought at the Farmer's Market which were insane - small, floral, barely sweet - but I imagine this jam works well with most strawberries, as long as they're not those pale, giant monsters you can buy at the supermkarket year round.)
-1/2 cup sugar
Combine 1/4 cup water with the sugar in a large, heavy pot and let sit. Meanwhile, hull and trim the berries, leaving the smallest ones whole and cutting any larger specimens into bite-sized pieces.
When the strawberries are trimmed, place the sugar-water mixture over high heat and watch as bubbles begin to form. First, you will see tiny bubbles mostly around the edges but soon the mixture will come to a full boil with big bubbles scattered all across the surface. Add the strawberries to the pot immediately before the mixture starts to brown.
Stir the strawberries over high heat for about 15-20 minutes. First, they will release a lot of liquid and become intensely fragrant. Keep stirring. Eventually, they start to break down and the liquid begins to thicken.
In the original recipe, you are instructed to keep a plate in the freezer, which you dollop teaspoons of the jam onto when you think it might be done. If it thickens on the plate, you've got yourself some jam. You are also instructed to use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature (210 means it's finished if you were wondering) but I actually do neither. Instead I use my intuition to tell me when the jam is just a little less thick than I'd ideally like it to be. It does thicken a bit when cooling.
However you decide to measure it, when the jam is at your ideal doneness, pour it into a bowl and set it over an ice bath to cool. Stir it a few times while it's cooling to let all the steam escape. Once it's mostly cool but still slightly warm, grate the zest of one lime directly over the jam. Stir the lime zest in and chill the jam in the refrigerator with a layer of plastic wrap sitting firectly on the surface of the jam to insure that a skin does not form. The next day, you can divide it up into jars if you like, where it will keep for approximately two and a half weeks in the refrigerator or up to a year in the freezer.