A spoonful of strawberry jam is all I want.
But not just any kind of strawberry jam, mind you. Not one of those that taste more sugar than fruit. Nor one of those with balsamic vinegar, lavender, or what have you.
This time of the year — when it’s spring here in California and it’s summer back home, when local strawberries start to roll in, when our own strawberries in our own kitchen garden start to blossom — I always have this uncontrollable craving for Good Shepherd’s strawberry jam.
The Good Shepherd Sisters make jams like no other. Sweet but not too sweet with plump, whole berries is what I remember about their strawberry jams from those summers we spent in Baguio City many, many years ago. The memory of those sweet days remain. The scent of pine trees, of crisp mountain air. The scent of fresh picked strawberries in the market. The color of strawberry stain on my sleeves. The taste of those summers preserved in a jar of Good Shepherd strawberry jam.
In hindsight, I take back what I said. Now, I feel I wasn’t being truthful. How can I not want more than a spoonful? Of course, I want more.
Strawberry Jam Recipe
Recipe based on The Essential New York Times Cookbook, makes three half pint jars
2 pounds strawberries, washed, hulled, and halved; if the berries are small, keep them whole
3 cups sugar, about 1-1/2 pounds
juice from 8 calamansi limes
The recipe for Good Shepherd jams is a closely guarded secret but this homemade version comes close in my opinion. The ratio of fruit to sugar is 1 to 3/4 not like most recipes, which use 1 to 1. I keep half the batch of strawberries whole and the other half crushed. Crushing releases the pectin in the fruit, the thickening polysaccharide, which makes the jam gel. I use a combination of ripe and underripe fruit. Slightly underripe strawberries have more pectin, which make the jam thicken faster than overripe strawberries.
Layer one pound of strawberries and one cup of sugar in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Refrigerate the other pound as well.
Start by washing three half pint canning jars with their lids, and screw bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse them well and drain. Keep the jars and lids in hot water until ready to use.
Place a small plate in the freezer for testing the jam.
Place the other pound of strawberries in a medium heavy non-reactive pan and gently mash with a potato masher or fork. Add the strawberries and sugar that have been macerating overnight. Stir in the remaining 2 cups of sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat to medium and continue simmering, gently stirring often until jam thickens and strawberries become tender. Skim off as much foam as you can. Start testing for consistency after simmering for 30 minutes. Place a spoonful of jam on the chilled plate. When the jam is the thickness you want, remove from heat and stir in the calamansi juice.
Fill jars to a quarter inch of top. Wipe rims clean. Place lids on jars then screw on the screw bands.
Place jars in a canner or large pot. Fill the canner with water until it covers the jars by at least an inch. Cover the canner with its lid and bring the water to a full rolling boil over high heat. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and remove the canner lid. Let the canner cool for 5 minutes. Remove the jars and let them cool. Check the seals. Label sealed jars and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Refrigerate after opening.