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, scarlet 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 used to come from The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl, © 2004 by Condé Nast Publications. After a few batches that were more sauce than preserves, I switched to the jam recipe in Foolproof Preserving by America’s Test Kitchen, © 2016. A grated Granny Smith apple provides the natural pectin needed to make the jam process “foolproof,” indeed. 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.