Jostaberry Jam

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A couple of years ago, my mother had four jostaberry plants sent to me for my birthday. If you know me, you’ll know that a fruit plant is always a wise gift to give me! What is a jostaberry, you ask? Well, if you want to get very specific here’s a link to its Wikipedia page, but for the most part it is a hybrid of black currant and two different gooseberries. It’s a hardy, disease resistant plant that yields large, dark purple berries. It’s got the tartness of the gooseberry and some of the complexity of a black currant.

This is the first year that I’ve had a significant harvest, considering last year’s was all of four berries. This year I’ve taken a few pounds already, and there are more hanging on the bush. I believe I am taking them well before they are ready–about a third are dark purple which is the ripe stage, a third are maroon with tinges of green, and a third are green because they just came off. Why haven’t you seen more jostaberries around? Well, I’ve found out first hand: they are hard to pick even though they do not have thorns like gooseberries do. I’m surprised it is said that birds will get them quickly, because the berries don’t seem to want to come off the stem. You really have to pull, hence all the green ones I’ve gotten. I’m going to let the rest of them get really dark and see what happens. As you may know, some unripe fruit is good for a jam. The levels of pectin are higher in unripe fruit, and therefore your “set” (or how firm a jam is) will be easier to reach.

I’m excited to experiment with this fruit, as it seems that they will do well in both sweet and savory applications (I’m thinking pickled jostaberries), but my predilections always run to jam first. My first batch was a real treat: deep garnet in hue, sweet and tart with a chewiness I appreciate. You can detect the black currant undertones, which I can only describe as a mix between deep forest and red berry. There are a few seeds in the berry which I don’t mind, but some may wish to pass it through a sieve. Today I might try a batch with a traditional gooseberry flavoring: the elderflower, which is blooming profusely all around my yard. For now these are the basics of this jam, if you see it at a market I hope you try it!

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Jostaberry Jam

Yields two 8 ounce jars, plus a bit for the fridge

1 pound of jostaberries (about a quart), topped and tailed

1/2 pound of sugar (1 cup)

1/4 cup water

First, you must top and tail the fruit. I have heard you can leave them in, but the stems and dried flowers are rough and scratchy, so I prefer them off. What exactly does top and tail mean? On one end is the stem, and on the other end is the spent flower–take them both off. You can snip them with sharp scissors, but using your fingers seems just as quick. It’s sort of a pain, but find the zen spot of it.

Put the topped and tailed berries in a pot with 1/4 cup of water. Boil gently for ten minutes to soften the berries. Add the sugar, and return to a boil. The mixture will quickly turn magenta, deepen and start to form large glossy bubbles. It will take about ten minutes to reach the gel stage. If you boil it too long, you may end up with a very firm jam, which might be fine with you depending on your preferences. I use the spoon technique, and watch for two drips. It’s very unscientific, but I’ve found it’s the best indicator of a when jam is done, even more so than the cold plates method, which I find very fussy.

There is no need to add lemon, as the berries are very tart. You may process these in a boiling water bath for ten minutes to keep them on the shelf.

Summer Arrives

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In just a few days it really will be summer, but I can feel it in the air already. School is winding down, and that seems to take me back to childhood, when those days were the early indicators of summer’s joyous arrival. We are still running on a schedule, but the looseness beckons. The long days are no longer bewildering–we are happy to stay outside until the orange and pink clouds cross the sky, and the blue deepens and darkens. And when I look out my open bedroom window at night to smell the warm air, there are fireflies everywhere: low to the grass, high up in the trees, dancing across the yard, in the garden, in the inky forest across the street. Summer is here.

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The strawberries are here, too. They’ve been here a while really, but now is the time to get their full effect. Is there anything so fragrant as freshly picked strawberries? As I drove home with two flats in the back–about 35 pounds–the smell continuously wafted up to me. There’s something so pure and straightforward about the strawberry. I love pickled strawberries, and roasting strawberries is swell, but is there anything so nice as just-made strawberry preserves? I like to keep the strawberries whole, but mash them a little as they cook. They foam up like crazy in the pot, but it never seems to stick around. Every book will tell you to skim the foam like mad, but I don’t, and it just disappears. The preserves smell so rich, buttery, but I don’t put butter in my preserves either, which some folks like to do to keep the foaming down. I just watch it, so it doesn’t overflow because no one needs strawberry syrup all over their stove. Believe me, I know.

This strawberry season I put a lot of strawberries in my salads. The little ones from the garden were perfect for that, as they are more tart than sweet. I have been keeping a glass bowl filled with the bigger ones in the fridge, hulled and halved, macerating in sugar. A bowl of that is the perfect dessert. And if you are feeling extra fancy, make some coconut whipped cream to put on top of it. The syrup– if it’s not slurped up by a small child–is especially good in a tall glass of cold lemonade. It’s so nice to sit on the porch, prepping strawberries while drinking a chilled glass of rosé (that has a nose of wild strawberries itself), knowing that summer is on your doorstep.

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Black Locust Blossom Liqueur

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The flowers this spring have been really mesmerizing, in particular the black locust blossom. It’s a tall tree in the pea family with deeply ridged bark. I am usually happy to just smell the air in appreciation, notice their delicate white blossoms as they litter the ground, and choose not to eat them. But this year they were such a wall of scent that I was lured, and decided to collect some. There were a few spots where the branches hung so low it was easy to get my fill quite quickly. Once home I decided a delicate liqueur was the way to go. In the past, I have tried and failed to make a truly exquisite elderflower liqueur, a la St. Germain. This liqueur is my new stand in. Floral and delicate, the lightly honeyed scent of the blossoms has stayed intact. A winner.

Black Locust Blossom Liqueur

Pack as many blossoms as you can in a wide mouth pint jar. Top it with vodka. Let it sit for about a week–the smell of the blossoms should be strong, and the color will be a deep yellow. Strain them, letting the liquid take it’s time. When most of it is out, you should lightly press on the flowers to get all the liquid out.  Add simple syrup (1:1 ratio of sugar to water) to taste.

I am new to the medicinal properties of this tree but according to this page it seems its benefits are many. I imagine you could leave out the simple syrup, and leave it like a tincture.

Cheers!