First Fruits of the North
Words and Recipe by Abby Ytzen-Handel
Photographs by Jenn Bakos
Here in New England, things take a bit longer. You might see your Instagram exploding with pictures of magnolia blooms in March or strawberries in May, but you and I both know that isn’t in the cards for us. Living in New England means embracing each season and its own brand of magic, because the seasons linger. Winter holds on with its freezing rain and wintery mix, finally giving way to spring’s abundance of blooms. Though it isn’t until spring ends and summer begins that we see and taste the long anticipated harvest.
The art of preservation has strong roots here in New England. We survive the hungry months with the stores we have gathered in the abundances of summer and fall. We can make sauces, relishes, pickles, salsas, jellies and jams to last us until the cycle brings us back to June, with the coming of the first fruits, strawberries. June is the first true food month in New England. We have tended the garden for months now, waiting and watching, jumping with joy when the seeds turn to seedlings and the asparagus comes up. But not until the tail end of spring do we get strawberries.
There is something magical about strawberries. They herald the arrival of the warm summer sun and with each bite bring us back to the sweet memories of childhood. I remember standing pressed up against my mother’s leg, waiting for her to finish rinsing the strawberries and devouring them as soon as the bowl was placed on the table.
My mother imparted me with her love of fruit; we laugh and say we could subsist on fruit alone. I can’t think of a summer not spent eating strawberries while basking in the sunshine.
On this particularly cold and dreary day, I find myself dreaming of strawberries! Walking into the field with my basket, picking strawberries that have been fully ripened under the heat of the early summer sun. I can feel the warmth upon my bare shoulders as I haul endless baskets filled with these little treasures. Some are eaten just as they are, perfectly unadorned. Some go into pies and crisps, while others are preserved for the next winter as strawberry rhubarb jam. I make mine tart, letting the fullness of the sweet strawberries blend with the sharpness of the rhubarb. These precious jars bring us back to the tastes of summer when the days are cold and short.
So, in honor of the coming of strawberries, I give you my strawberry rhubarb jam.
Tart Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
This jam is slightly tart, the way I like my jams, it is delicious for PB and J, spread on crusty bread topped with blue cheese, baked on top of brie or spooned over ice cream!
Note: I reduced the sugar content from a typical canning recipe to have a greater amount of fruit and less sugar in each jar. I have found that the longer you store, there is some color loss on the very top layer, however it is perfectly fine to eat. If you mind that sort of thing, simply add extra sugar. My ratios of rhubarb and strawberries are not set in stone – let your taste be your guide!
- 2.5 lbs of Rhubarb chopped
- 1.5 lbs Strawberries chopped
- Juice of 1.5 lemons
- 2 ¼ c. Sugar
Combine and simmer while stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes or so (until it reaches the consistency you prefer in a jam, the longer you go the thicker the jam will become as it reduces). Ladle into clean jars. To can, process jars in a water bath for 10 minutes, remove from bath and let sit until all lids have sealed. To freeze leave extra head space. Enjoy!