Monday, June 30, 2008
Strawberries And More
This is my season! I absolutely love fresh picked berries. With buckets in hand, I wait patiently to hear which farms are ready for U-Pick. Blueberries, strawberries, tay berries, raspberries, blackberries... I love them all!
Last week I got an invitation to get in on some strawberry picking. In the three years that I've been in the Pacific Northwest, I've yet to actually pick my own strawberries. I know. It's just that the strawberries here have a very, very short season. On top of that, they are so petite, juicy and fragile, that they don't export well. In other words, you either pick them quickly or buy them at the farmer's market for the couple of weeks that they're available, otherwise you're out of luck. Needless to say I was definitely up for strawberry picking!
So I dragged the entire family to pick and kick off the summer berry season. We managed to get about 23 pounds, some for jam and the rest to be bagged and frozen (for winter smoothies).
Before I go on though about the jam, I've got to tell you about another new ingredient that I've been playing around with. It's Instant Clear Jel. ICJ is basically an instant cornstarch. It dissolves instantly, so there's no need to cook your sauce. Case in point my new strawberry jam.
Jam making usually involves a lot of stove top cooking as well as tons of sugar. No cooking necessary for this jam. Commercial pectin needs lots of sugar to jell the pureed fruit, so you wind up using a ton of sugar, most often needing more sugar than actual fruit. Now with the instant starch, you can add as much or as little sugar as you like.
Apparently the Instant Clear Jel doesn't work well for traditional canning or processing, but is awesome for freezer jam. I have to say that this was some of the best strawberry jam I've had, although maybe the fresh-picked strawberries had something to do with it. I will share the recipe, but need to type it up first. Sometimes scribbling on a napkin isn't the best way to keep recipe notes.
I would definitely recommend looking into the Instant Clear Jel. You will see me calling for it in lots of upcoming recipes, and there's really no substitute for it. I do have a little to spare and can try and hook you up with some, although I don't have a large enough quantity to list it on our website (you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org). Otherwise, you can check out King Arthur Flour or some other places on the internet. Apparently it's been available to the baking industry for something like 60 years, and was even voted the best pie thickener by Cook's Illustrated. It's certainly an uber-cool ingredient for vegan desserts.