I have been thoroughly enjoying getting back into the swing of things since we returned to Umbria a couple of weeks ago and one of our favorite things to do is to visit local area markets. It is very difficult not to be become an inspired cook when you see all the fresh, seasonal produce overflowing the market stalls although I seem to have developed the significant problem of simply buying too much at a time. I really have to remember that I am cooking for two and not twenty, although we certainly have been getting our fill of fresh, seasonal vegetables lately! Sunday we headed over to Pissignano, a small town close to Trevi that has a great antique market once a month. We browsed through all the different market stalls, but I had my eye on a produce truck that I spied when we first arrived in town that was selling fresh fava beans and strawberries by the case. I knew those plump, ripe strawberries would be perfect for turning into this tasty jam.
After browsing for a couple of hours through the many antique stands, my husband found a couple of items to buy to display outside our farmhouses. When asked if there was something I’d like to buy for inside the house, since I hadn’t seen anything I couldn’t live without, I encouraged him to walk back to the produce truck where we bought a case of fava beans, and two cases of strawberries. The strawberries were so ripe that their fragrance was almost overpowering on our drive home, but I knew they would be perfect to use in a batch of strawberry jam.
The next morning I realized that I needed to tackle my two cases of strawberries and turn them into jam quickly as they were as ripe as they could possibly be and I didn’t want them to begin to spoil. I had made strawberry jam with the addition of balsamic vinegar once in the past and really liked the rich, deep flavor the vinegar added to the jam. I also read about adding black pepper to this jam giving it just a little bite which makes it a wonderful condiment with cheese and crackers. Wanting to try the jam with the pepper, but knowing that our farmhouse guests do not always like things spicy, I decided to make half my jam with pepper, and half without. I ended up making a double batch of the recipe below so I’d have enough to share with our guests, and was very pleased that the jam turned out perfectly. I especially love the subtle bite of the pepper and even like the peppery jam on my morning toast! I prefer jam recipes that do not use artificial pectin such as this one and the addition of lemon juice and cooking it for a longer period of time allows the jam to set naturally.
Note: To test if your jam has set, place a small plate in the freezer before you begin to make your jam. When you think your jam has thickened enough, take a small spoon and drop it onto your plate and place the plate in the refrigerator for a minute or two. Take the plate and hold it sideways. The jam should be thick enough to mound on the plate and not run off.
Deborah Mele 2011
- Three Pounds Fresh, Ripe Strawberries
- 2 Cups Granulated Sugar
- 1/3 Cup Lemon Juice
- 3 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
- 2 Teaspoons Black Pepper (Optional)
- Wash the strawberries, remove the tops and coarsely chop.
- Place the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a heavy bottomed pot and bring to a boil.
- Boil over medium high heat stirring frequently, and skimming off the foam for 20 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to a slow boil, and continue to cook until the jam has almost set, about 45 minutes to an hour.
- Add the balsamic and pepper if using and mix well.
- Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes.
- Test to see if your jam has set (see notes above)
- Sterilize your jars and lids and while still hot fill with the jam leaving about a 1/2 inch headspace.
- Place lids onto the jars and boil in a water bath with jars covered by 3 inches of water for 10 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and let sit an additional 5 minutes before removing from the water bath.
- Place the jars on counter and let sit untouched for 6 hours before storing.
- Refrigerate after opening.