Now that summer is here, the woods are thicker and greener than I had hoped they would be, and the fields are lush with ripe berries, bumble bees and flowers. There's a certain comfort in the fact that life has not only returned, but thrived; it brings me a type of peace that is hard to come by in any other setting and I want to bottle up this feeling to save for a darker time. So naturally, I make jam.
I've made jam and preserves out of nearly every type of berry there is, but my favorite and the most comforting of all is strawberry. During bouts of depression or heartache, I find that it is my soul, not my stomach that requires nourishment and food becomes a moot point. Standard "comfort food" like macaroni and cheese or chocolate chip cookies strikes me as nauseating. But French bread topped with salted butter and strawberry jam, with its remembrance of the peace of summertime, provides the exact kind of sustenance I need.
This strawberry jam is made with a very old technique, using very little sugar and no added pectin. Its sweetness is a three part note, starting on the tip of your tongue with the sugar and honey in the syrup, continuing with the juice from the berries as you bite down, and ending with the floral finish of lavender in your nose. Serve it on crusty bread with mild cheese such as humboldt fog or gabriel coulet, or with herbed butter.
Strawberry Jam with Lavender and Honey
adapted from Christine Ferber's "Mes Confitures"
-yeilds 40 ounces
2.5 pounds strawberries*
1 1/2 cups raw cane sugar
juice of one small lemon
1.5 Tablespoons raw honey
3-4 drops lavender essential oil (such as DoTerra)
1. Rinse strawberries with cold water, pat dry and remove stems. Leave whole if you have small berries, or cut into pieces to your liking. Mix berries with sugar and lemon juice. Cover and let sit in the fridge overnight.
2. Bring mixture to a simmer in a large pot over medium. Return to bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.
3. Strain mixture and bring syrup to a boil (221F). Add half of strawberry pieces and return to a boil for five minutes, skimming off any foam.
4. (Optional) Let jam cool for 10-15 minutes. Stir in remaining berries, essential oil and honey. Do not boil jars to seal if you do this step, as it will make the essential oil rancid. Refrigerate.
*This recipe should work with other berries such as currants, blueberries and blackberries. Also consider using different types of essential oil such as basil, but remember that a little bit goes a long way; err on the side of caution!
Special thanks to Beth Kirby for being fantastic company and a beautiful hand model while strawberry picking at Valley Homey Farm.