Note: My favorite spice blend for these crackers is za'atar: sesame, thyme, sumac, and flaky sea salt (like Maldon). However, you should experiment. Try making "everything" crackers with dried...
A couple weeks ago, I worked my last day at the restaurant. It was a very bittersweet decision for me, especially as I had grown close to most of my coworkers.
Perhaps because I work in the food and restaurant industry, I find most chef autobiographies to be tiresome, but one thing they do get right is describing the intense camaraderie between back of house staff. There's something about doing punishing work in an overheated, noisy, stressful, and low-paying environment that really brings people together.
Granted, this camaraderie has many of the features of locker room shenanigans and fourth grade humor, but it's completely invigorating nonetheless. At a good restaurant, the people you work with have your back when things get crazy, and whatever--ahem--harsh words are exchanged during a rough service are often dissolved in a strong drink after work.
I hesitated for a long time before finally making the decision to leave. If I could bend the laws of physics; if there were 48 hours in a day; if I could clone myself, etc., etc., etc. But because I can't do any of those things, I decided the best thing was to simplify my life a little by only working one job.
So here I am.
There were some things that really took a back seat while I was at the restaurant. My sourdough starter was one of them. The fact that it's still alive after so much neglect is simply amazing to me. Another thing that fell by the wayside was my canning habit.
One of my jobs at the restaurant was to make jam of some kind for the brunch menu and a compote for the cheese plate. In the fall and winter I made batch upon batch of apple butter. I made so much marmalade (lemon, orange, grapefruit, meyer lemon, 3-citrus) that I think I can supreme a citrus fruit with my eyes closed. I made strawberry jam, rhubarb preserves, apple jelly, chutneys of all kinds, huckleberry compote, and so on and so on.
But as far as canning at home, I can't remember the last thing I made.
I've been eating strawberries by the pint for several weeks now. Strawberry season in the Pacific Northwest is possibly my most cherished food discovery since moving here (quince being a close second). While strawberry jam could never capture the exact flavor profile of a perfect strawberry, it has its own special allure.
Strawberry jam captures the condensed and refined essence of the strawberry. At its best, it is seductively fragrant and deep garnet red--a slick of saturated crimson. There is something about it that feels luxurious and exclusive even though strawberries are mercifully plentiful here. I will not lie--spreading strawberry jam on good toasted, buttered bread gives me a great deal more pleasure than many of the fabulous and expensive foods that I am supposed to swoon over.
I posted a recipe for a basic strawberry jam last year. This year, I wanted to do a little something different, but still in keeping with the simple goodness of the thing. Whether I have improved upon the original here, I do not know. But the resulting jam is everything I wanted it to be, which is sometimes enough.
I found many recipes for strawberry rosé jam that contained only a trace amount of wine--3 tablespoons, say. To me, this tiny amount seemed implausible. Would you really be able to taste 3 tablespoons of rosé in a finished batch of jam? Finally, I found a recipe that made use of an entire bottle of wine, which seemed more reasonable.
Adding a bunch of liquid to fruit for jam-making seems counterintuitive. After all, the main idea behind making jam is to remove as much water as possible to condense the fruit and make it shelf-stable. However, this recipe cleverly has you steep the fruit overnight in a syrup of wine and sugar, then you strain out the fruit, reduce the syrup, and add the fruit back at the end to finish. The resulting jam is lush with wine-soaked fruit and is an absolutely shocking red color.
Obviously, this jam is made for good, rustic toast with salted butter, but it would be equally at home in a bowl of whole milk yogurt, on top of vanilla ice cream, or on a cheese plate next to a ripe bloomy cheese.
This recipe is adapted from the Strawberry and Pinot Noir Jam in The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant, 10 Speed Press, 2012. I like to keep an eye on the temperature of my jam as it cooks. I have found this to be a reliable way of knowing when the jam is almost done. Temperature, combined with the wrinkle test, is a very good gauge of doneness. However, make sure to stir the pot thoroughly before taking a temperature reading. Often, the temperature in the center of the pot will be higher than at the sides. Stirring will equalize the temperature, allowing you to get an accurate reading.
Clean and remove the tops from:
4 pounds strawberries (about 5 pints)
Quarter large berries, halve or leave whole smaller ones.
Combine the strawberries in a deep, wide pot with:
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 bottle (750mL) decent rosé
Juice of 1 lemon
(1 vanilla bean, split and seeded)
Over high heat, bring to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat, transfer to a storage container such as a bowl, and let cool completely. Refrigerate overnight or up to several days.
On the day you make the jam, clean and sanitize 6 half-pint jars as per this recipe.
Strain the liquid, setting the strawberries aside. In a deep, wide pot, boil the rosé syrup until the temperature hits 215°F and the liquid is reduced by about half, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Carefully add the strawberries to the syrup and continue to boil, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thick and very dark red, about 25 to 30 minutes. Check the temperature regularly. This jam has a soft set, so it will be ready at 212°F-215°F. You can also use the wrinkle test to determine if the jam is ready. Simply put a plate and spoon in the freezer before making the jam. When the temperature hits 212°F, pour a small spoonful of jam onto the cold plate and allow it to sit in the freezer for a minute. When you drag your finger through the jam, it should wrinkle slightly. If it doesn't, continue to cook the jam until it passes the wrinkle test.
Fish the vanilla bean out of the jam. Using a canning funnel, ladle the jam into the jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Run a thin knife around the inside of the jars to dislodge air bubbles. Wipe the jar rims clean. Seal the jars with the lids and rings--not too tightly.
Use a jar lifter to place the jars in the boiling water bath, and make sure they are covered by at least 1 inch of water. Bring the water back to a boil and process for 10 minutes.
Remove the jars from the water and let them cool completely. Any jars that have not sealed by the time they are cooled can be re-boiled or you can simply store them in the refrigerator. Store sealed jars with the rings taken off.