[Strawberry Jam with Black Pepper and Fresh Mint]
The recipe comes from a great little book by Christine Ferber, the Jam Fairy, simply titled “Mes Confitures”. After a section with tips and techniques, which is kept nice and short, Christine goes on to share over seventy of her recipes.
They are organized by season, and I find this clever and wonderfully suited : jam-making is really the art of canning an ephemeral moment of the year, to be enjoyed later when nostalgia strikes. And just like memories are often sweeter than reality was at the time, jam is the memory of the fruit, and is, indeed, sweeter and more concentrated.
Some of Christine’s recipes are classics, but some are very inventive and tempting. Spring is the time for Rosemary and Acacia Honey Rhubarb Jam. In the summer, we’ll make a Lemon, Lemongrass and Garden Raspberry Jam. Fall will come, and with it a Chestnut and Vanilla Pear Jam. As for winter, it will bring us an Orange, Chocolate and Banana Jam.
I made this jam last year with small strawberries from Brittany, and it was the first jam I ever made. I think I let it reduce a little too much, and only got two jars out of it, when I probably should have gotten more.
The result is a very concentrated and very sweet jam, which is utterly delicious : rarely have I tasted such a vivid strawberry taste in a jam. Industrial strawberry jams are usually pureed, and I think it’s a real pity : here the crystallized strawberries have stayed whole, you can see their pretty shapes in the syrup, and you can bite into each one, sending shockwaves of strawberry flavor to your jubilating palate.
It works extremely well with bread of course, or to sweeten yogurt. I can’t really say the black pepper or mint shine through, though. I suspect it is because the jam is so concentrated, but I have upped the amount in the recipe below anyway (from 5 leaves and 5 grains to 10 of each).
Confiture de Fraises au Poivre Noir et à la Menthe Fraîche
– 1.1 kg fresh strawberries
– 800 g crystallized sugar (This is a special sugar that jellifies better than ordinary sugar. Substitute regular granulated sugar if you can’t find it.)
– the juice of one lemon
– 10 leaves of fresh mint
– 10 grains of black pepper, freshly ground
Rinse the strawberries quickly under cold water. Dry with a kitchen towel, and cut off their stems. Cut them in halves or quarters if they’re big, leave the small ones whole.
Put the strawberries together with the sugar and the lemon juice in a porcelain dish, such as a terrine dish. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper, and let macerate overnight.
The next day, put the strawberry mixture in a large saucepan (Christine Ferber uses a “bassine à confiture”, a special copper pan — I use a red tin cocotte), and bring just to a simmer. Pour the mixture back into the dish, cover with parchment paper, and let rest in the refrigerator overnight again.
On the third day, put a saucer in the freezer. Wash the glass jars and their lids carefully, then soak them in boiling water for 10 minutes, and set them out to dry upside down on a clean kitchen towel.
Pour the mixture through a silk sieve (I just used a regular sieve). Bring the syrup you’ve gathered to a boil, and let it boil for ten minutes. The goal temperature, if you have a candy thermometer, which I don’t, is 105°C (221°F). Remove the foam cautiously with a spoon (I personally leave the foam alone, I don’t mind the foam).
Add in the strawberries, the mint and the pepper. Bring to a boil for another 5 minutes, stirring gently. Remove the foam again if you want.
Take the saucer out of the freezer, and put a drop of jam on it. Tilt the saucer, and see if the jam is set. If not, let it boil for another minute, then test again until you’ve reached the desired consistency.
Pour the jam into the jars until they are full, wipe carefully if there was any spillage and close the lids tightly. Let cool to room temperature upside-down on the counter, then store in a cool and dark place for a few months.
Important disclaimer! This jarring method (boiling the jars then closing them tightly and letting them cool upside down) is one that’s been commonly practiced in France for generations and generations. However, using a sterilizing machine and rubber-lidded jars is the only way to be absolutely safe. For more information on home-canning, click here.