Friday, June 22, 2012

The Blue Chair Fruit Company and My Best-tasting Strawberry Jam

Three weeks ago, I dropped in on a demo of jammaking by the owner of Blue Chair Fruit Company herself, Rachel Saunders.  This was a serendipitous encounter, as I had browsed around my favorite jam websites that morning and was surprised to find that a Williams-Sonoma store was featuring Rachel, her new cookbook, and a demo that very afternoon. I hopped on the PATH and was there.

My copy is autographed by Rachel.
  Rachel is a slim stylish woman who has a warm personality and a fountain of knowledge about making fruit preserves. She started her own business, Blue Chair Fruit Company in Oakland CA, making artisanal products with organic local ingre-dients. She adheres closely to those ideals, and so forgoes pineapples and other non native fruit. Lucky for lovers of her marmalade, California is a grower of citrus and the Bay area has many organic farms.

  As I stood watching her make pure strawberry jam, she explained her methods and answered my questions. Most impressive thing about it was the 
Photo credit: Blue Chair Fruit. com
huge copper jam pot boiling away at a very high foaming boil. Rachel said she has 6 of these pans going at once in her commercial kitchen. That speaks to her organization and stamina in addition to the hand filling, processing, labeling etc. that goes along with it. Jam making is hot stuff!

  I couldn’t help but think that without the added pectin, this boiling mixture of strawberries, sugar and lemon juice, would end up sticky and overcooked, with large pieces of floating fruit. Well, I was wrong (of course –who has the cookbook and whose jars are sold at Williams Sonoma, and who is giving the demo !?!) . The fruit mixture changed before my eyes, from a juicy soup of individual berries, to a richly colored, thick spread where the fruit has disintegrated and become, well, jam. The jell texture is soft, not stiff, and the flavor is fresh and sincere. Now I have a better way for making jams – freed from the constraints of the box of pectin, its generic recipes with too much sugar. Yay!
June jams: strawberry pineapple; strawberry vanilla;
strawberry preserves; strawberry lemon; strawberry
 balsamic peppercorn, and plain strawberry
Some of her tips:  Macerate the fruit with sugar for several hours or overnight. This aids in drawing out the juice.  Cook in a wide deep pot, a wide sloping pan lets the mixture evaporate more quickly. Measure fruit and sugar by weight. Add fresh squeezed lemon juice gradually and don't let the flavor of lemon become pronounced. The yield will be less than when made with pectin because there is less sugar added and the longer cooking reduces the water in the jam. Stir well so fruit doesn't stick.
My last batch of strawberry jam was made without pectin according to her method, though without the copper pot. From 3 lbs of berries, I made five 8oz jars of lovely red jam which has a sweet tart fruity flavor. I am going to enter this batch in the Middlesex County Fair in August - and I bet I'll win the blue ribbon. 

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