Homemade Strawberry and Rhubarb Vanilla Jam
January and it is strawberry season. Specifically Korean and Japanese strawberries that is. This is practically the only time of the year that I eat strawberries. Apart from the erratic French gariguettes that come a couple of months later. IF they ever come that is. Fraises des bois and Mara des bois…I can only dream. Yes we do get strawberries on the supermarket shelves almost all year round. Call me picky but I don’t buy straws from Australia, New Zealand or the Americas, be it North or South. They just don’t dig as well as the Korean, Japanese or French fellas. Neither do I eat Driscoll’s
crappy strawberries. No offence guys but they just make you think that you are eating strawberries. So in reality and as snobbish I may sound, the “real” strawberry season is actually very short. For me at least. As seasonal as how these fruits had been in the past and should rightfully be so. Apart from buying and savoring them as it is, we often crack our heads to find ways to extend our days to enjoy them before the season closes. And what better way to lock in these flavours through making jams out of them, an age old method to “immortalise” the delicate sweetness the current season bequeaths upon us which alas, come so swiftly yet ends all too shortly.
Making strawberry jam isn’t a very difficult thing to do at all. It is basically mixing the fruit with at least 65% by weight in equivalent of sugar. Pectin is optional as strawberries do produce a certain amount of pectin on their own to start with. It is not added in the recipe I’d used. But the flavours can be made more interesting through the incorporation of something tangy which contrasts against the sweetness of the strawberries which ultimately serves to accentuate both flavours at the same time. Partnership between rhubarb and strawberries goes back a long way, especially in the art of French confiture making as well as pastries like tarts and pies. Alas the ability to bring them together depends pretty much on a bit of luck for us here in Singapore. Their seasons do overlap though barely.
This year’s season for the Korean strawberries came rather early I thought. They started sometime in late November, when we were still enjoying the flavours of autumn from the Korean apples, persimmons and chestnuts. I waited nonetheless for a couple of weeks more because the first crop harvested often meant the fruits which grew the fastest and may not have accumulated enough sugars in them to be sweet at the right brix levels. Pragmatically, the first batch was also the most expensive and made absolutely no sense for me to splurge on them since it seemed almost certain that the other supermarket chains would also quickly follow suit and bring them in later on, in hope that with the economy of scale by sheer numbers and market competition, the prices would normalise eventually.
Rhubarb we see in Singapore usually comes from Australia though I have seen French ones last year as well. They are usually available during the colder months in the southern hemisphere which meant sometime starting from June and July. Interestingly, rhubarb season last year stretched all the way through November, way into spring and nicely “coincided” with the coming of the Korean strawberries somewhat, missing each other by a month or so. Not as bad as I’d thought as the seasons for these two batches of fruits are usually quite well separated and never staggered, because we get rhubarb from the South while good strawberries come from the North. I bought two bundles of rhubarb sometime in mid-November for another baking project which didn’t materialise somewhat. They were then chopped into finger length batons and subsequently chucked into the freezer. In retrospect, it is almost subconsciously prophetic it seems destined for the Australian rhubarb to be paired with the Korean strawberries for some jam.
The strawberries are first macerated in sugar overnight. Maceration is a process where fresh fruits are tossed and generously coated with sugar. The latter in the surroundings create an osmotic effect which draws out the juices from the fruit thus intensifying their sweetness. For the jam, I’d chosen a recipe by Alsatian Patissier Christine Ferber from her book “Mes Confitures“. Often dubbed as the “Queen of Confitures”, her recipes are excellent and cannot-go-wrongs. Not very many may have heard of Ms Christine Ferber but mention “Ispahan” and it should immediately ring a bell. The astonishing combination of lychee, raspberries and rose was popularised through Pierre Hermé’s macarons, one which he is incidentally most commonly associated with. Lesser known is that Ispahan is actually Ferber’s brainchild, who conceptualised it in the form of a confiture a few decades back when Hermé was still with Laduree. I shan’t go into the details of Ferber’s work here. She deserves a proper and more detailed description in a future blog post perhaps.
There are about a dozen of recipes if not more in Ms Ferber’s book for strawberries and rhubarb but why this recipe? Firstly, the original ingredient list is incredibly short, requiring only 4 ingredients. I’d added vanilla pods “for the fun of it” and it worked surprisingly well. More importantly, what intrigued me was how time-consuming the procedure is given how simply jams can be made. Almost contradicting I know but after I dissect the recipe, Ferber’s intentions became more apparent to me. The recipe takes a total of 4 days to complete, longer than most if not all of her other confiture recipes. The time frame is deliberately stretched so that flavours could build up. No gelling agent was added so it relied entirely on the natural workings of what the fruits have on them originally for the confiture to come together properly. Whole strawberries were used and unlike other jam recipes which requires prolonged boiling over a period of time, this recipe requires the strawberries only to be “brought to a boil” but multiple times over regulated time intervals. This allows the strawberries to remain largely intact instead of disappearing into the confiture, and the texture of the fruits becomes a salient characteristic of Ferber’s confitures. The confiture was delicious, playing highly on the natural sweetness from the strawberries with a tad of refreshing sourness from the rhubarb. I’d added two scraped vanilla pods in there, whose aroma becomes slightly hinted amongst the highly perfumed Korean strawberries to start with. The vanilla pods were not in Ferber’s original recipe though she does incorporate them in other confitures quite boldly I must say. So I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t mind!
550g whole strawberries
Juice of 1 lemon
2 vanilla pods
On the first day, remove unwanted parts from rhubarb, as well as tough skin membranes from the thicker parts. Chop rhubarb into index finger digit-length chunks. The final net weight should be around 500g.
Rinse strawberries and drain them thoroughly over a colander. Remove leaves and stalk. The net weight should be around 500g as well.
In two mixing bowls, add rhubarb and strawberries separately.
Add half of the sugar (400g each), as well as half the amount of lemon juice into each of them.
Toss very gently and cover with cling film. Allow to macerate in the fridge overnight.
On the second day, pour the macerated strawberries over a sieve. Pour the collected juices into a preserving pan or pot. Cut the vanilla pods length wise into halves and scrap the seeds with the back of a knife. Place both seeds and scraped pods into the juices and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower flame to medium and allow the juices to cook for 5 min. Pour the cooked juices over the strawberries in the mixing bowl and toss gently. Allow to cool slightly, cover with cling film and allow to macerate again overnight.
Repeat the same cooking of the juices and maceration process for the rhubarb.
On the third day, pour the strawberry mixture into a preserving pan or pot again and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn off flame and allow the mixture to sit in the pot for 4 hours.
After 4 hours, bring the strawberries and juices to a boil again. turn off flame and allow the mixture to sit again for another 4 hours. This process is repeated a total of 5 times, i.e boiled 5 times with 4 hour intervals in between over a period of 20 hours.
The cooking process is repeated with rhubarb in a separate pot.
On the fourth day, pour the strawberries into a sieve/ Bring the collected syrup to a boil. Turn down the flame and continue to cook for 5 min. Add the cooked strawberries and return the mixture to a boil, stirring very gently. Skim carefully any foam which had collected on the surface. Repeat the process for the rhubarb.
When the two batches of jam have been skimmed, mix them together into one pan and bring to a boil for 3 min. Skim again if necessary. Check the set of the jam (details for the test can be found here). Pour the ready jam into jars and seal.