With the onset of summer comes also a bounty of strawberries. Add to those berries a bit of sugar and plenty of sunlight, and you have a strawberry jam recipe fit for the season's best mornings — with a slice of good toast, of course.
The recipe comes from Amy Thielen, the host of Food Network's Heartland Table, but she got it from a familiar source. Thielen explains: "Years ago, my grandma gave me a recipe from her files, and it was a really interesting one. It was called 'strawberry sun jam.' "
So, what makes it interesting? "The sun actually cooks the jam."
If it sounds simple, well, that's because it is. Just mash the berries with some sugar, boil them briefly and let the whole mixture sit out in the sunshine. And while you're at it, be sure to set it in a spot — elevated and screened — where bugs can't get to it.
The wait for it to thicken takes about eight hours, but it's by no means tedious. In fact, Thielen loves it as a family activity.
"It's a really fun thing for kids to watch happen," she says. "It is kind of like a sweet science experiment."
Strawberry Sun Jam
Makes 6 half-pints
16 cups (4 quarts) ripe strawberries, trimmed of green tops and rinsed
6 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Cheesecloth or a large piece of clean screen
If they look sandy, give them a quick rinse and then dry on toweling. Trim the green tops, cut in half if large and pour the strawberries into a wide-bottomed, nonreactive saucepan.
Add the sugar and lemon juice. Crush the berries lightly with a potato masher, leaving medium-size chunks of fruit. Bring the mixture to a full boil over high heat, stirring often, and then immediately cut the heat.
Prepare a stable, level outside table for the sun jam. Divide the strawberry mixture between two rimmed (14.75 inches x 9.75 inches) baking sheets. Carefully walk the filled baking sheets outside. Cover with a layer of cheesecloth or screen, tucking it beneath the pan to hold it taut above the surface of the strawberries.
Leave the jam to evaporate in the hot sun until it thickens. When done, the jam will hold the trace of a spatula for two to three seconds before oozing back in to fill the space, and a droplet will feel a bit sticky when pinched between your thumb and forefinger.
Depending on the intensity of the sun, this will take between eight and 24 hours. Set the jam out in the morning to take advantage of as many sunlight hours as possible, and if you need to carry it over to the next day, bring it inside at night.
Pour the finished jam into clean, sterilized glass jars filled to 1/2 inch from the brim, top with clean lids and rims and store in the refrigerator for up to six months, or in the freezer up to 1 year.
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