The Little Foodie: Imperfect fruits yield perfectly good jam
Any time you have strawberries or other berries that are not living up to their potential, throw them in the freezer so they’ll be ready when you need them.
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If you’ve been lucky enough to have experienced picking ripe berries from a farm, you are probably as snobby about your strawberries as I am. Vine-ripened berries stain your fingers, and as my son says, taste like they’ve been soaked in sugar. They are red all the way through and have actual juice when you bite into them. The strawberries you buy in a plastic clamshell at the grocery store, unfortunately, hardly resemble fresh-picked.
As kids in Oregon, we would wait impatiently for “U-Pick” signs to pop up around town in June. I’m still surprised farmers made any money with their prices per pound. They probably should have weighed me, before and after I combed the rows of the strawberry fields. Every third berry went straight into my mouth instead of my cardboard box. I’m sure they knew, considering the bloody drips at the corners of my lips.
I was lucky enough to take my own children to pick strawberries this year. As the adult, I picked the majority of the fruit and combed through the leaves with care. I chose only the ones that were perfectly ripe.
My 3-year-old ran up and down the rows, grabbing any and all red (and sometimes green) fruit poking out from the leaves. He gave me a bright red smile and insisted on holding the box as we walked up to pay. I threw in a few extra dollars to cover the farmer’s losses that day.
I understand that access to a strawberry field is a real privilege. For those who aren’t so lucky, modern shipping techniques make the fruit available at a reasonable price during the summer.
I myself buy whatever frozen or “fresh” berries I can get my hands on. The latter tend to shrivel like shrunken heads or darken and turn mushy before the week is up.
If you find that half of your strawberries are no longer fit for a summer picnic, I encourage you to make this jam. In fact, you can use any berry.
This is less of a recipe and more of an idea. Any time you have strawberries or other berries that are not living up to their potential, throw them in the freezer so they’ll be ready when you need them. Use this jam to replace the sugar-laden jarred stuff, or make it when you’re completely out.
Chia seeds are magical, turning raw fruit into a gel, making this the simplest jam recipe you’ve ever executed. This product doesn’t last as long — maybe a week in the fridge — so make a small amount at a time. You can add a sweetener of your choice, such as a few drops of stevia or tablespoon of honey, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
CHIA SEED STRAWBERRY JAM
By Mariko Jackson
- 1-1/2 cups strawberries (bruised or discolored OK; slice off moldy spots)
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chia seeds
Wash strawberries and remove their tops. Place in bowl or bag and freeze several hours or overnight. (You could skip this step and just obliterate them in the blender, but if you like texture and plan to mash the berries, freezing helps.)
Put the frozen berries in a bowl on the counter for an hour or two. Then use a pastry blender or large-tined fork to mash the berries as thoroughly as possible, stirring as you go.
Stir in chia seeds. Let mixture sit (in the fridge this time) for a couple of hours. Stir again and use as you like. For thicker jam, add more chia seeds. Keeps for a week in the fridge. Makes about 1 cup.
>> NOTE: If you’d rather avoid the chia seed texture, let mixture gel, then blend at high speed until smooth.
Approximate nutritional information, per tablespoon serving (based on 1 cup): 10 calories, 1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 2 g carbohydrate, no fat, cholesterol, sodium or protein.
Mariko Jackson blogs about family and food at thelittlefoodie.com. Her column runs on the last Wednesday of the month. Nutritional analysis by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.