strawberry jam with balsamic and black pepper

I bought two jars of jam on Monday at our local farmers market. I had no intention of buying jam. I bought those two jars because I’m a sucker.

After taking my daughter to gymnastics that afternoon, we stopped by the farmers market to browse the selection. It’s a small market, with only ten or so booths set up in the peak months, now through the summer. In the winter months, there might be just a couple of farmers selling their produce. On Monday, though, there were some good things available. Several farmers had fresh tomatoes, greens of some sort or another, lots of zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, and cucumbers. A couple of booths had pints of fresh plump blueberries, and many of those pints were filled with berries almost the size of a dime. One local goat farmer had raw goat’s milk, goat’s milk ricotta, and fresh eggs.

As we were leaving, arms loaded with bags of summer squash and blueberries and a token batch of goat’s milk ricotta, Maddie dragged me over to a table filled with jam jars of all sizes. The jam maker was a tall Australian man wearing a cowboy hat. His accent was lovely. He wasn’t so bad looking, either.

I explained to the jam maker that I had just made a batch of strawberry jam, just two days before. And no, I really didn’t need any jam, but his certainly looked good. He asked my daughter if she’d like a taste. This was a sneaky move, of course. What eight-year old turns down free samples of sweet jam and apple butter? Not mine.

While winning over my daughter, one lick at a time, the jam maker told me about the flavors he’d created and about his upcoming ideas for new batches. Before I knew it, the Australian had won me over. His passion for jam-making and combining new flavors, his sweetness to my child, and yes, his accent — all of this resulted in me coming home with $10 less in my pocket and two jars of jam we didn’t need.

So, about that jam I made. The Australian’s strawberry jam was good, but mine takes the cake.

After going strawberry picking with the kids on Saturday, we had an abundance of strawberries. Seven pounds of strawberries, in fact. Making preserves of some type seemed the only rational thing to do with that many berries. Other than eating them by the handful, that is.

Jennie is always a reliable recipe source – not to mention friend – and she didn’t fail me here. I used her strawberry jam recipe as a model, mostly because I loved her idea of using the microwave to cut the preparation time. Genius, I tell you. I can hardly wait until her cookbook comes out.

Yield: approx 3 cups

Cook Time: 8 minutes

Strawberry Jam with Balsamic and Black Pepper

This recipe is adapted from Jennifer Perillo's Strawberry Jam recipe. I used regular pectin since that's what I had on hand, and I added some balsamic vinegar and black pepper.

Strawberries plus balsamic vinegar plus black pepper might just well be the new bacon.

Ingredients:

2 quarts strawberries (approximately 8 cups), washed and hulled
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons aged balsamic vinegar
4 grinds fresh black pepper
2 teaspoons pectin

Directions:

In a large glass microwave-safe bowl, mash strawberries using a potato masher or fork to desired consistency. Microwave on high in the microwave, covered, until strawberries are almost boiling, about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, whisk together sugar and pectin. Stir sugar and pectin mixture into berries. Add balsamic vinegar and black pepper, stir to combine. Cook on high for 3 more minutes, taking care to cover the bowl well with a paper towel (very important!), until thick and bubbly.

Transfer to a container, let cool, and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.

silent sunday: strawberry picking at roger’s farm

scored some local honey -- including gallberry, one of our favorite types

 

finding balance and a blueberry buttermilk tart

I feel as if I’ve been running a marathon, but without all of the calorie-burning and health benefits. And without the sweating.

My work-life balance has been wonky lately. When my mind drifts in the evening, I find myself thinking about work projects or emotionally-difficult patient encounters. My sleep has been disrupted with dreams of work, dreams filled with patients and their diagnoses. I’m certain my children are sensing my preoccupation, at least in some subconscious way. My five-year old has been especially clingy, refusing to sleep in his room, and Madeline is more on-edge and sensitive than usual.

Last night, after a particularly dramatic melt-down with no apparent cause, Madeline hugged me tightly, her face still wet with tears. “Can we bake something this weekend, Mommy?” she asked. “Can we bake a cake together?”

Creating balance between work-life and home-life is a daunting task. When I juggle my important roles — wife, mother, doctor, employee, daughter, sister, friend — it’s a struggle to keep from dropping one of those balls, much less all of them.

The motivating factor that helps me keep those balls in the air? Guilt.

As much as I hate that feeling of guilt, it’s the third hand — and fourth and fifth hands — in my daily juggling act.

This blueberry buttermilk tart was an effort to overcome my guilt last weekend after spending Friday and Saturday  away from my family for a work meeting and to speak at a conference. We had one remaining bag of frozen blueberries from our blueberry picking excursion last summer. The bag held two cups of plump berries, not enough for a pie, but just the right amount for this tart. I battled with the sticky dough for the crust, throwing out one batch entirely after it misbehaved. I finally used Dorie Greenspan’s tart crust method, and it came out wonderfully.

And this weekend? I predict another round of guilt-induced baking.

 

Blueberry Buttermilk Tart

While you can use a pre-made dough for this crust, I recommend making your own. The baked crust has a texture like shortbread - sandy and almost-but-not-quite crumbly. The method for the crust comes from Dorie Greenspan. Rather than risk the irritation that comes from watching the dough tear and stick as you try to roll it, just use this method. It works.

Ingredients:

For the tart shell:

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 1 tablespoon cold or frozen unsalted butter, cut into bits
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon ice water

For the filling:

1 cup buttermilk
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons minute tapioca
2 cups fresh blueberries, picked-over and rinsed

Directions:

Prepare the tart shell:

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, and salt a couple of times until combined. Add in the cold bits of butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add in the beaten egg yolk and process for long, 10-second, pulses until the dough starts to come together in clumps. The sound the food processor makes as it works the dough right before the clumps form will change, so listen closely. Pour out the dough onto a work surface, and knead it a couple of times, just to incorporate any loose bits that try to escape.

Press the dough into the bottom and sides of a non-stick, 10-inch, fluted tart pan with removable bottom. Chill the shell in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter the shiny side of a sheet of aluminum foil and place the buttered side down tightly over the tart shell. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove the foil. Press down any puffed up areas of crust with the back of a spoon. Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the crust is a light golden color. Cool the shell in the pan, on a cooling rack.

Prepare the filling and tart:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a blender or food processor, combine the buttermilk, egg yolks, granulated sugar, lemon juice, butter, nutmeg, vanilla, salt, and tapioca. Blend until the mixture is smooth. Spread the blueberries over the cooled tart shell, and pour the buttermilk mixture over the blueberries. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the filling is just set.

The tart crust and method come are adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recipe in Baking: From My Home to Yours. The filling is slightly adapted from a recipe in Gourmet, July 1990.