Strawberries and rhubarb are two hot items at the local farmer’s market right now. Greens such as kale, spring onions, baby beets and tiny radishes are looking good too, and are mild in flavor. Often, seeing the bounty and beauty of these fruits and vegetables encourages me to buy way too much because I want to enjoy it all. This combined with an occasional basketful of goods from the local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) literally has our home refrigerator overflowing. My spouse and I are cool with a busy home cooking schedule but we tend to go on short weekend trips a few hours away from the city so all that beautiful goodness is not at the peak of its freshness when we get home. Needless to say, it’s paradoxical to buy local veggies to have them wilt away in the refrigerator. So in order to limit waste I was considering bringing it along but I don’t want to haul so much stuff and bother the fellow next to us on the train or bus. So I considered making fresh juices, or frozen fruits in Zip-loc style bags for a daily morning smoothie, or perhaps pickle some of it or make some seasonal jellies. The latter seemed to me the most appealing at the moment.
(juicy, ripe farmers market strawberries)
When you make jelly you can preserve fruits at their peak of ripeness, and lock in their sweet flavor, berries in particular! Jelly can be stored neatly in jars in the refrigerator. I love to pop open such goodies late at night for a snack with yoghurt on a cracker or rice cake and they’re certainly a treat when eaten for breakfast with wholesome toast. They can be made sweet or savory. Think of strawberries with a touch of balsamic, or with a touch of natural sweetener such as maple syrup and if you want to be adventures add a few leaves of fresh basil. Rhubarb (which has a short growing season) makes a great jelly. Add a touch of honey with some freshly chopped ginger for some heat -- makes a good combo and is a terrific way of making the tart stalks enjoyable. I can’t wait for local cherries, which I like to poach in a bit of agave syrup with a small amount of lemon-thyme - unreal for the taste buds. And of course blueberries with fresh mint and a squeeze of lemon and any of the mentioned sweeteners will make your palate tingle.
(fresh blueberries with a touch maple butter)
Recipes are pointless really. The most important thing is buying berries at their peak of ripeness – so taste them first. Most of the farmers at the market happily let you do that. Make sure you rinse the berries with water. De-stem and/or remove leaves and pits before adding a sweetener, which is one teaspoon per cup of fruit usually. In case you get your hands on some rhubarb cut it into ½-inch long pieces. Put the fruits individually into a saucepot and add the sweetener and condiments except the herbs. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and simmer it on a low heat setting for 20 minutes. The idea is to heat the fruits gently not to boil them. Add any fresh herbs the last five minutes of the cooking process to preserve their subtle flavor. Fill into clean jars if you don’t have jelly jars a cereal bowl or large cup will do. Cool the stewed fruit on the kitchen counter for 20 minutes then transfer them into the refrigerator and cover with a lid. Berries cooked this way have a refrigerated shelf life of a week. Jarred jelly has been making a nice travel companion for the weekend away as it fits snuggly into our tote bag and does not bother my neighbor on the train. Hmm I think that may have been a recipe after all?
(strawberries with a touch of balsamic, black cracked pepper and honey)
(breakfast spreads, rhubarb & ginger, strawberries & basil, blueberries & mint)
Chef’s note: the home stewed jellies make a nice gift.