You don't forget
Before we start, I should admit to a problem, and that problem is jam. I love to make jam, jelly, preserves, anything along those lines, but I rarely eat them. I like my toast with only butter, and my scones with nothing but themselves. I manage to get myself around a lot of peanut butter, but only occasionally in the form of peanut butter and jelly. My cabinets are an arsenal of jam, but here in the Land of Wizenberg, we rarely go into battle. That’s why I like this strawberry conserve. It appeals to the part of me, the highly irrational part of me, that wants constantly to make jam, but it isn’t really jam. It’s more useful than jam. It goes to places where jam doesn’t go. It starts from halved strawberries, and because it’s a conserve, or a whole-fruit jam, it doesn’t get a long cooking; the berries are simmered only briefly, until they’re very soft but still have integrity, like self-contained pockets of concentrated strawberry juice. It occurs to me that that could also serve as nice ad copy for Capri Sun. I always wanted Capri Sun, and I was never allowed to have it. You don’t forget these things.
In any case, I love this strawberry conserve. I like that the berries taste like jam but stay in their discrete halves, perfect for all kinds of uses. I also like that the berries are suspended in a thick strawberry syrup, so what you get here is really a two-in-one deal. You can, as Hamilton and Hirsheimer suggest, lay one of these strawberries on top of a cracker or small toast with a slice of Serrano ham or prosciutto and a drop of aged balsamic vinegar. There might not be a better cocktail snack. On the sweeter end of things, you could also fold them into whipped cream for a fool. Or you could do as we did this morning and put them on a pancake. My father-in-law, who is currently visiting from New Jersey, went out on a limb and developed a particularly daring variation involving strawberry conserve AND maple syrup. You can imagine. You could also put them on a waffle. Or ice cream. Plain yogurt. Cake.
And somehow, though I said only two paragraphs up that I am boring about my toast, I think the best place for this conserve might be a piece of buttered toast. A soft, pulpy strawberry does a lot for raspy bread, and vice versa. It can lead to the kind of sordid scene where you sit at the table with a piece of glistening toast and a jar of conserve with an iced tea spoon upright in it, and each time you take a bite, you pull up a single berry and lay it on top, and you do that until you’re out of toast, and then you make more toast, and you do that until you’re out of berries. And then you’ve got the syrup that’s left behind, which is to say, you’re just starting.
From Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, Bon Appétit, June 2011
Strawberries are low in pectin, so they don’t readily set into a firm jam. The presence here of some lemon rind, which is full of natural pectin, helps with that. But still, what you wind up with is more like strawberries in a beautiful, thick, blood-red syrup than it is like a jam. And in that way, it’s pretty spectacular.
4 cups fresh strawberries (about 1 lb.), halved
¾ cup superfine sugar
Peel (with white pith) of ½ lemon
Combine all ingredients in a heavy, wide pot. Cover; let sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. The sugar will dissolve and the mixture will get very juicy.
Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring gently, until the strawberries are just tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the strawberries to a 1-pint jar. Continue simmering the liquid until it thickens into a syrupy consistency, 1-2 minutes. [Mine took a little longer.] Discard the lemon peel, and pour the syrup of the strawberries in the jar. Seal, and let cool to room temperature. Chill for up to 1 month.