A ‘Jam Session’ with Food Legend Joyce Goldstein
Jamming, the process of preserving fruits (or vegetables) by cooking them down with sugar into a sweet gelatinous nectar, is something that humans have been doing since at least the first century CE when a jam recipe was included in the world’s earliest-known cookbook—the Roman work The Art of Cooking.
Incidentally, jam is the very confection that jump-started my culinary career. Many years ago, a vivid dream that I just couldn’t shake left me inspired to crack the jam-making code. Eventually, I went so far as to call my baking business (which in time turned into my food tour business) “The Jamstress.”
Jamming seamlessly spans generations. Just ask Joyce Goldstein. The two-time James Beard award-winning chef, restaurateur (she was the chef and owner of the popular San Francisco restaurant Square One) and author of The New Mediterranean Jewish Table is herself a jam aficionado. So much so, in fact, that Goldstein, 83, chose preserving as the subject of her latest book, Jam Session: A Fruit-Preserving Handbook, which was released last month.
The California girl fell in love with making jams and preserves when she first moved to San Francisco in the 1960s. This was before farmers’ markets existed as ubiquitously as they do today. Goldstein befriended Geraldo Dal Porto, the produce manager at her local Cal-Mart supermarket, so she could get stockpiles of the best fruit to play around with, making wild variations. She would then bring back a jar or two of to share with him. To this day, Goldstein is known for gifting jams and preserves as hostess gifts.
“Certain recipes have been in my repertoire for many years,” she continued, “and I make them every year. I cannot imagine my pantry without Moroccan cherry tomato jam or plum mostarda or membrillo, or whole-berry strawberry preserves or apricot jam.”
Goldstein’s book was released on the cusp of summer, a season when even northern latitudes enjoy some type of rebirth—and a supply of berries, stone fruits and other juicy sun-ripened fruits. The message in Goldstein’s book is clear—capture these fruits at the peak of their ripeness without impeding their natural flavor by overdoing it on the sugar (while still leaving enough in there to preserve the fruit for months to come).
With this in mind, the book is presented in chapters that follow the seasons, and the fruits they bring, revealing the insights of a true jammer.
The summer chapter includes recipes for strawberry preserves, from the classic version your grandmother made to whole strawberries with balsamic vinegar and black pepper. An avid jammer, I found bits and pieces to take away from Goldstein’s tips and tricks, and confirmation in my canning heresy: She, too, doesn’t use a conventional canner, but rather a home-made concoction comprised of a tall pot and a plate.
The following recipes are examples of Goldstein’s innovative approach to canning. She encourages jammers to play with flavors while simultaneously debunking the notion that homemade jam is too arduous or too old fashioned for home chefs in the year 2018.
Elbow deep in fragrant plum, fresh fig and pear preserves, I can say that in a cyclical world, Jam Session provides inspiration that feels fresh and timely for a fruit-enthusiast like me.
Why bother with preserving your own when you can buy canned fruit in plain sugar syrup? Because you can create a syrup that is distinctive and shows off the fruit to its best advantage.
Apricots are delicate and cook very, very quickly. Most recipes call for cooking the fruit way too long. To keep their shape, apricot halves should cook for 3 to 5 minutes and whole apricots for 8 to 10 minutes. You can put the cardamom seeds in a cheesecloth sachet or tea strainer if you do not want them floating around in the syrup, but I like to see them and don’t mind biting into them.
Serve the apricots with ice cream, or as a garnish for panna cotta or rice pudding.
2 pounds small, firm apricots
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
1 vanilla bean, cut into thirds
3 strips lemon zest
1/4 cup thin julienne strips of fresh young ginger
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, in a cheesecloth sachet or tea strainer or loose
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (optional)
Remove any stems still attached to the apricots. If you prefer to preserve apricot halves, pit and halve the apricots.
Place a baking sheet on the counter near your stove. Heat a kettle of water. Set a stockpot on the stove and fill it with enough water to cover the jar(s) by 1 to 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Sterilize the jar(s) in the water bath. Simmer the lid(s) in a saucepan of hot water. Leave in the water to keep warm.
In a large preserving pot, combine the sugar, water, vanilla bean, lemon zest, ginger, and cardamom. Bring the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat. Carefully taste the syrup and add lemon juice if desired. Simmer the syrup until it starts to thicken, about 5 minutes longer. Decrease the heat to low. Add the apricots and simmer gently for 3 to 5 minutes for apricot halves or 8 to 10 minutes for whole apricots.
Place the jar(s) on the baking sheet. With a slotted spoon, transfer the fruit to the hot, sterilized jar(s).
Return the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat and reduce until it is thick. Carefully ladle the syrup over the fruit in the jar(s), leaving 1-inch headspace. Run a chopstick around the inside of the jar(s) to remove any air bubbles. Wipe the rim(s) clean and set the lid(s) on the mouth(s) of the jar(s). Twist on the ring(s).
Bring the water bath back to a boil.
Using a jar lifter, gently lower the jar(s) into the pot. When the water returns to a boil, decrease the heat to an active simmer, and process the jar(s) for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the jar(s) in the water for 1 to 2 minutes.
Using the jar lifter, transfer the jar(s) from the pot to the baking sheet and let sit for at least 6 hours, until cool enough to handle. Check to be sure the jars have sealed (see page 34). Label and store the sealed preserves for 6 months to 2 years. Once open, store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
— Substitute strips of orange peel for the lemon peel.
— Add a few tablespoons of orange-flower water.
— Stir in 1 to 2 teaspoons amaretto liqueur just before ladling the syrup into the jar(s).
This is a crowd-pleaser. You can make this with plain sugar, but the rose sugar adds a subtle perfume to the jam. As a change of pace after you’ve made this a few times, you may use raspberries in place of the strawberries, but it is hard to resist a classic pairing.
Use as a filling for shortcakes, atop rice pudding or panna cotta, or, of course, on toast or biscuits.
2 pounds rhubarb
4 cups (2 pint baskets) strawberries
Juice of 1 lemon
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups rose sugar or granulated sugar
1/2 cup blood orange juice, for color (optional)
Place 3 or 4 small plates in the freezer.
Wash, trim (no need to peel it unless it is particularly stringy), and dice the rhubarb into 1-inch pieces. You will have about 8 cups.
Trim, hull, and quarter the strawberries.
In a large preserving pot, gently combine the rhubarb, strawberries, lemon juice, granulated sugar, and rose sugar or additional granulated sugar, and toss to mix. Let sit overnight to macerate.
The next day, bring the fruit mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 5 minutes.
Set a colander over a bowl and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the rhubarb and berries to the colander.
Place two baking sheets on the counter near your stove. Heat a kettle of water. Set two stockpots on the stove and fill them with enough water to cover the jars by 1 to 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Sterilize the jars (see page 32) in the water bath.
Reduce the rhubarb-strawberry syrup until it thickens, passes the plate test (see page 30) and does not run. Carefully return the fruit to the jam pot, along with any juices that have collected in the bowl under the colander, and add the blood orange juice.
Cook the jam briefly until it passes the plate test again, achieving a soft set that mounds on the plate and is not runny. Remove the pot from the heat.
Bring the water bath back to a boil. If the jars have cooled, warm them in the water bath or in a 200°F oven. Simmer the lids in a saucepan of hot water. Place the jars on the baking sheet.
Ladle the jam into the jars, leaving 1⁄4-inch headspace. Wipe the rims clean and set the lids on the mouths of the jars. Twist on the rings.
Using a jar lifter, gently lower the jars into the pots. When the water returns to a boil, decrease the heat to an active simmer, and process the jars for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the jars in the water for 1 to 2 minutes.
Using the jar lifter, transfer the jars from the pots to the baking sheets and let sit for at least 6 hours, until cool enough to handle. Check to be sure the jars have sealed (see page 34). Label and store the sealed jam for 6 months to 2 years. Once open, store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
FLAVORED SUGARS: While rose water and orange-flower water are beautifully aromatic, their flavors will fade over time. Therefore, you might want to create some scented sugars. They permeate the preserves and have longer-lasting power. You can buy rose sugar at some spice shops, or you can create your own. Dried edible rose petals and lavender are available online from purveyors such as Kalustyans and Whole Spice Company.
To make rose sugar, grind 1⁄2 cup dried unsprayed and organic rose petals with 1 cup granulated sugar in a food processor.
For lavender sugar, grind 2 to 3 tablespoons unsprayed, organic lavender with 1 cup granulated sugar in a food processor.
For vanilla sugar, cut up a vanilla bean and grind it with 1 cup granulated sugar in a food processor.