On my ferry ride into the city Friday night, one of the drivers came on the loudspeaker announcing, “No we do not have air conditioning. No, the city isn’t any cooler. Have a lovely evening.” Yikes. Well, to his credit, we were all a bit grouchy. This past weekend, a heatwave descended on the Bay Area. The ferry was stifling hot and the air was stagnant. Not exactly the perfect night to stand around a simmering pot of strawberries for two hours making jam. But we don’t always have a choice in these matters. So in a tank-top, flip-flops, my hair pulled back, and extra-large water bottle in tow, I walked into Urban Kitchen SF excited to begin.
There’s a part of me that’s always felt like maybe I was born in the wrong era. I loved Little House on the Prairie (I still have the boxed set up in my closet somewhere), and always fantasized about what it’d be like to live off the land. I despise wasting food, and will eat the same meal for days to avoid doing so. So I’m actually surprised I haven’t gotten into canning sooner. I’m not sure what inspired me to take this course initially, but after meeting Jordan Champagne from Happy Girl Kitchen Co., I know it will not be a waning interest.
Jordan and her husband Todd started their company after working in California’s Central Coast and seeing the enormous amount of fruit that goes to waste during the harvest. This, combined with Jordan’s dislike for the overly-sweet jams on the market…and Happy Girl Kitchen was born. Today they’re based out of Oakland, CA and they make some pretty awesome products. I was lucky enough to get the recipe for their infamous strawberry jam during the workshop and I’ll share it here with you.
When we walked in, there were tables overflowing with organic, local berries. We had so many leftover that we each got to fill up jars of berries to take home. The raspberries were perfectly delicate and the blackberries, soft and tart.
Since we only had two hours, we got going quickly, getting the strawberries cooking right away. Although most of her recipes are naturally low in sugar, Jordan utilizes the old-fashioned or “slow” method of jamming relying mostly on sugar rather than pectin or other stabilizers. This means more time stirring at the oven. In my particular case–as we were working in an outdoor kitchen right outside of the Ferry Building–this meant lots of stirring while watching a naked biker, “Critical Mass” (a common impromptu bike parade, intentionally blocking off streets to make a statement about our over-reliance on automobiles, among other things), and an aristocratic looking gentleman proposing to his leather-clad boyfriend. Ah, San Francisco. And it wasn’t getting any cooler over that stove. But I kept stirring. It was pretty easy to escape into the smell of sweet, warm strawberries. And I was very focused on the end-product, on toting a few jars of homemade jam back onto the ferry for the next morning’s breakfast.
I brought home two jars of jam, one jar of preserved berries, and a jar of honey syrup for future preserving. While sweaty and a little overcrowded, I can’t imagine a better way to spend a Friday night. And while I know each time I make jam probably won’t be filled with new friends, naked folks, and sweaty limbs, I’m excited to jump into this hobby head-on and capture some of late August for those dark January evenings when we all forget what summer tastes like. Jordan’s recipe follows.
Strawberry Lemon Jam
This recipe calls for macerating the strawberries overnight, essentially pouring the sugar right over the top of them, allowing it to soak in while the strawberries slowly release their juices. Yes, it’s an old-fashioned technique but it results in a lovely, subtly sweet, special jam. You can let them macerate in their sugars for 48 hours if you need to, but 18-24 hours should be plenty. If you would rather skip this step, you certainly can. But you may face difficulty getting the jam to gel. You’ll notice a much lower sugar content in this jam than others–try it, you won’t miss a thing. The natural sweetness of the berries is on display.
14 cups strawberries
4 cups sugar
1/3 cups fresh lemon juice
Wash and de-stem the berries and allow them to drain thoroughly.
Place berries and lemon juice in a pot and scatter the sugar evenly on top. Don’t stir or disturb the berries–the sugar will filter down and capture all the juices. Leave at room temperature for 18-24 hours.
After gathering all of your canning equipment, mash the berries by hand or with a masher. Add the contents to a non-reactive pot and bring to a hearty boil. Boil until gel point is reached (10-30 minutes).* Process in a hot water bath canner for 5 minutes.
Jam recipe yields roughly enough for 1 case (12, 6 oz. jars).
*After canning numerous time, you’ll be able to eye whether or not your jam is at the gelling point or not. I’m not there yet. Jordan taught us a trick where you freeze a plate and put a little spoonful of jam on the frozen plate, bringing its temperature down quickly so you can see what it would look like at room temperature. It should look like the consistency of jam. If it doesn’t, keep on heating and stirring. Sidenote: I will say, after just one night of making jam, you do get a sense for the foam that forms, and how the foam settles after a while, and the strawberries really cook down…a
nd then it’s ready. Experiment. Have fun. Don’t take it too seriously: envision naked bikers and gay proposals.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.