Friday, June 1, 2012

The Jersey City Farmers' Markets Exploration, #1 Hamilton Park

Hamilton Park Neighborhood Association
The Hamilton Park Neighborhood Association has designed this farmers market as a fun destination inside the refurbished Hamilton Park in JC's historic downtown. The park has a playground, dog run, tennis court, green space, and gardens, so the fresh market really attracts a crowd of friendly neighbors and foodies. Among the food vendors are my friends: Made with Love Organic Bakery, Saucy Sara's Salsa, plus many more booths offering flowers, empanada, olives, lemonade,  fresh mozzarella, a pizza truck, knife sharpener, to explore

Stony Hill Farm Market rolls its truck right in and sets up a large display of tempting vegetables, herbs and fruits. Chatting with the big guy, I learn that they've been growing strawberries for 8 years or so, and that the recent hot humid weather has not been damaging to the berries at all. In fact, under irrigation, the crop is very good. In order to supply the daily schedule of local markets, the farm plants its crops in weekly succession, so they can harvest at the peak throughout the summer and fall. Interestingly, strawberries can be protected from an unexpected late frost by spraying them with water which freezes over the blossoms, rather like what citrus orchards do for oranges.

One quart equals 1-1/2 pounds
Strawberries are the first fruit of the season in the northeast and I am hoping that you will join me in making jams and pickles. Let's have a warm up session and make a batch of Strawberry Vanilla Jam, over 3 days and doing a little bit each day. We'll make one small batch starting with 1 quart of berries and yielding 4 half pint jars.
Day 1 - buy your supplies: a 5 lb bag of sugar; one vanilla bean; a package of liquid or dry pectin; a 
box (one dozen) half pint canning jars and lids; a lemon or two; 2 essential canning tools the jar lifter and a large mouth funnel. Wash 4 jars and lids in the dishwasher and set them upside down on a clean towel, ready to go. Time: half hour in the grocery store.
Strawberry Vanilla jam 
Day 2 - shop for fresh locally grown berries. buy 1 quart (1-1/2 lbs) for making the jam and -more for strawberry shortcake, ice cream, etc. Wash the berries very well and trim the leaves and slice in quarters resulting in 3-1/2 to 4 cups. Place the prepared berries in a non-reactive bowl and add the vanilla bean, and 1 cup sugar. Mix well, cover and refrigerate overnight. Time: half hour at the farmers' market, half hour of food prep.
Day 3 - put on your apron. Measure 2 and 1/2 cups sugar, squeeze the lemon for 2 Tbsp juice. Heat four jars in the canner or in the oven if not processing and put four lids and rings in a small pan- cover with hot water.
Heating the jars
Now remove the vanilla bean, then crush the berries with a potato masher. Add them to the stockpot or large kettle along with the sugar and lemon juice. Bring up the heat slowly stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to get a very rapid boil. Watch out for splatters and keep stirring for about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the pectin ( half a pouch or half a dry package, because we have only 1 qt fruit). incorporate the pectin and raise the heat again for a rapid boil. Count one minute, reduce the heat and test for jelling. Turn off the heat and stir for another 3 minutes to distribute the fruit and diminish the foam. Skim off the foam and using the funnel, ladle the very hot jam into the hot jars. Wipe the rims carefully with a damp towel and top each with a lid and ring.
Process them in a water bath or steam canner for 10 minutes; cool and test the lids to see whether the jars are sealed. Or if you are not processing, then you will have to store them in the refrigerator. Time: about an hour, or less if not processing.
This recipe is from the blog "Food in Jars" a few changes by me, and I want to give credit to the author Marisa McClellan. She has written a cookbook, and I follow her blog.
So for about 2 hours time, you have four jars of a unique and tasty topping for scones, toast, poundcake and ice cream. Mmmmm. Overall, very good, but it turned out a little stiff like jelly. Adding the pectin here would be optional if you'd like a softer spoonable jam as a result.

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