Silly me. I must have misread the label on the strawberry plants I bought last month. I thought I was buying a variety called Ozark Beauty. Instead, I must have bought some called ANT FOOD, by mistake.
Good thing there’s a strawberry farm in nearby Cabot, Arkansas, that grows lusciously sweet fruit, red-ripe to the core, with effective ant-repellant measures in place. I can’t take another year of insipid, store-bought strawberry jam.
The two buckets of berries I bought Thursday afternoon yielded a dozen 1/2-pint jars of jam by 2:30 a.m. Friday. It’s the most alchemical trick I know, turning fruit, sugar, and a little freshly-squeezed lemon juice into bottled bliss, a taste of spring that can be enjoyed long after strawberry season is over. I’m tempted to make the 20-mile drive again this week to buy another bucketful. Winter can be interminably long.
My favorite strawberry jam recipe comes from The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl, © 2004 by Condé Nast Publications. It’s available online by clicking here. Know before you start that the cooking process is tedious. There is much stirring of a hot, molten mass, so be prepared with a paperback book to read that you can hold with one hand while you stir with the other. I use a flat-edged, wooden spatula for the whole process, as it moves a lot of jam in the pot at once, keeping it from scorching. Following canning instructions precisely is imperative so that you don’t poison your entire family with a nasty case of botulism. But don’t worry, it’s all really very simple, and the rewards are great.