A new kind of jam


I managed to get over to my favourite u-pick here in St. John's last week. I picked and picked and picked and came home with far more strawberries than I could possibly eat. Which was just fine, because these berries were destined for the jam pot. My husband and daughter both love strawberry jam. I, on the other hand, am not entirely crazy about it. Since I had such a huge load of berries, I decided to make some plain jam (to please the family) and some fancy jam (to impress myself, since I'm not sure anyone else really cares all that much about my fancy jam... except you guys, right?). I thought to myself, "Self, what would jazz up this strawberry jam?" And myself answered, "Well, rosemary, obviously!"

Sounds crazy, I know, but a quick internet search revealed that I was not the first person to have thought of this. There were a couple recipes online, but they were both on the sketchy and unsafe side, with poor directions and totally obsolete canning methods. A note to you all: if a recipe ever suggests you use the "inversion method" of canning, run away. "Inversion" means "pour steaming hot jam into a jar, screw the lid on, and turn the jar upside down." Not only does this method create a warm, sticky space for bacteria to thrive, it also creates the risk of steam becoming trapped in the jar and near-boiling jam exploding all over you, sending shards of glass and scalding preserves everywhere.

But I digress. When I make jam, I don't use a recipe so much as a method. For every cup of fruit, I use between 3/4 cup and one full cup of sugar, as I learned to do in The Joy of Cooking. This pretty much guarantees a good jell, and it's enough sugar that I don't have to worry too much about the jam spoiling (provided I process it properly, as per the instructions on the Bernardin site). Any less and you're in the realm of "low-sugar canning," which requires specially prepared commercial pectin and about which I know nothing. If I needed to make a low-sugar jam, I would just play it safe and keep it in the freezer. I'm obsessive like that, because botulism sounds like an absolute horror show.

Anyway, back to my jam, which was a revelation. I cut up 8 cups of strawberries, and combined them with 6 cups of sugar in a great big pot. I let them sit like that for a few hours, while I did other things, and I occasionally gave them a stir to make sure the sick amount of sugar was dissolving. Then, when I had cleaned the kitchen adequately, I filled up my canner, sterilized my jars and lids, gathered my tools, and put my jam on to cook. I added 5 tablespoons of lemon juice to the berry-sugar mix, because strawberries don't have much pectin, and so they make a very runny jam unless you add something to firm them up. Grated green apple also works well.

I won't go into the details of cooking jam and knowing when it's ready, and what you do with it when it is, because the people at Bernardin have excellent directions for that (Marisa at Food in Jars is another excellent adviser).  But I will tell you that, just as the jam was starting to jell, I added about 30 leaves of rosemary from the pot on my front step, which I had chopped very finely. And it changed everything. The depth of flavour! The tingly feel on the tongue! This really is an amazing discovery, this adding-herbs-to-jam thing, and I am now determined to make the most of it.

This morning, I decided to try another fruit-herb pairing: yellow plums and sage. Hell-o! The plums were super tart, so I used almost the same amount of sugar as I had fruit (2 cups sugar to 2 1/2 cups chopped plums, with no need for lemon juice as plums have loads of pectin), and right at the end I added three large fresh sage leaves, also finely chopped. This is even better than the strawberry-rosemary combo! I am on a roll!

As the summer goes on, I plan to try blackberries with lemon balm, and I have heard that blueberries and basil are an awesome flavour fusion. I also have a lavender plant in the yard that I would like to combine with fruit to make jammy goodness. Any suggestions? Have you combined fruit and herbs before?


You make me wanna sprout!

You make me wanna sprout!

In Newfoundland and Labrador we produce a huge abundance and variety of leafy greens for a lot of the year, but they’re sparse come wintertime. If you're missing summer salads and need a boost after all the heavy holiday eating, there is a way to get local greens into your life way before spring, and it is so extremely simple. In your own kitchen you can easily grow the powerhouse of plants, the sultan of salads, the emporium of enzymes…sprouts!

She Certainly Can... Can-Can!

Keynote Blogger: Andreae Prozesky, Food Nerd, The Scope

I’m not a rich woman. I probably never will be. I take my feelings of wealth where I can find them. The gleam of apple jelly through the criss-cross pattern of my favourite canning jars is likely as close as I’ll ever get to a real diamonds. My translucent bottles of berries, cherries, plums, and rhubarb are like rubies and amethysts and garnets and topaz to me. Peering into my pantry, I feel as though I’ve just walked into Tiffany’s.

Jewels and stones might make an outfit, but homemade brandied fruit makes a Christmas trifle. Jams and jellies beat diamonds any day when it comes to toast-topping, and rhubarb sauce over ice cream is as splendid a thing as anything I can think of.

For the last two years, I’ve been canning just about anything that fits into a jam jar. Some of my experiments have been great successes – blackcurrant jelly, damson jam, pineapple rhubarb conserve with walnuts, and balsamic fig chutney have all been big hits. There have been failures, too – flavourless green tomato relish, the way-too-big batch of grapefruit marmalade (how much grapefruit marmalade can I eat in over a winter?), and the entirely regrettable garlic-chive jelly.

I haven’t bought jam in a shop in well over a year. I’m not sure this has made much of an impact on my finances (sugar and jars do cost something, even if the fruit is usually free), but it’s a source of some pride, and it’s also one thing I don’t have to kick myself for forgetting at the grocery store. Commercial jam may taste like fruit, yeah, but homemade jam tastes like sun-warmed fruit picked with care in a field or off the side of the highway or behind your house. It’s a nuance that’s hard to describe, but you know it when you taste it.

One of the things I can most often, and with the greatest success, is rhubarb. It’s as local as produce comes around here, much of it growing completely untended in people’s backyards. We’re nearing the tail end of rhubarb season now, but there’s till plenty to go around. Maybe you, like me, still have a bunch sitting in the freezer, chopped and cleaned and waiting to be transformed into something useful. Rhubarb jam is delicious, especially with almond butter on a bagel. Rhubarb chutney is excellent with crackers and cheese, or over a baked brie (if you have chutney in your pantry, you can always say, “I’ll bring the starters” when you’re invited to a pot-luck).

But my greatest rhubarb triumph came a few weeks ago, when I made some vanilla honey rhubarb sauce to sell at the farmers’ market. Ever since, I’ve had people e-mailing and phoning and stopping me in the street to talk about it. It wasn’t any fuss to make, and my goodness was it delicious. There is some time management involved, but none of the individual steps are at all difficult. It makes a beautiful topping for pound cake or ice cream (or both), or, according to one happy customer, as a dip for, ahem, mini-doughnuts.

Vanilla Honey Rhubarb

Vanilla honey rhubarb sauce

(makes about 6 250-mL jars)

1200 g rhubarb, cleaned and chopped (to help you visualize, this amount fits in one of the smaller-size plastic spinach containers from the grocery store)

900 g organic cane sugar

200 g organic honey

2 vanilla pods

1. Two days before you plan to make your sauce, put your rhubarb in a big pot and cover it with the sugar. Cover and place it in the fridge, stirring every now and then (like 3 or 2 times a day) to help the sugar dissolve.

2. At the same time, warm your honey in a small pan over low heat to make it a little more liquid. Split vanilla beans open with the tip of a paring knife, and scrape seeds into the honey. Add pods to honey and remove from heat. Let cool to room temperature, then pour honey into a clean jar and cover. Set in a dark cupboard to steep.

3. When you’re ready to make your sauce, remove rhubarb from fridge and place on stove. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that accumulates on the surface. Simmer until it starts to thicken, about 20 minutes. Stir in honey, removing pods.

4. Pour hot sauce into clean jars and process 10 minutes. If this is your first time canning, there are great instructions here:

Happy Canning!


Andreae Prozesky lives in St. John's and writes the Food Nerd section for The Scope and blogs at