Around late August you’ll read a number of smug blog posts by me and every other homesteader and gardener glorifying the harvest of summer. You’ll see baskets mounded with zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, and squash. There will be photos of quart jars filled with freshly canned applesauce, pickles, tomatoes. Maybe an article about freezing pesto in ice cube trays (a good tip). What those colorful photos and stories of bounty are unlikely to reveal is that the farmer/gardener taking the photos is completely exhausted, and probably SO ready for everything to just stop growing already.
When I picked 20 lbs strawberries at the end of June last year, it was all I could do to spread them out on some baking sheets in the freezer. Picking and freezing them had completely maxed out the time I had available for strawberries. Making jam or a pie was out of the question.
Fortunately, strawberries (and all other berries) freeze really well, so there’s no reason you have to make your jam in June when there are a million other things that need your attention. In fact, there’s one very good reason to freeze your berries and deal with them later, and that’s quince.
Quince is a funky fruit that grows on a very dense and not-so-attractive thorny bush, and it ripens in October with the late apples. The fruit looks a bit like a Japanese pear, but it’s rock hard and sour and full of seeds. You should not ever bite into one on a dare. It’s only redeeming feature is that quince is chockablock full of pectin, which is the stuff you buy in powdered form and add to jam as a thickener. Pectin is the only difference between strawberry syrup and strawberry jam.
In ye olden days, before you could buy pectin in a box, quince was your best bet for getting your jam to set. But quince and strawberries have very different growing seasons. Strawberries are mostly done by early July, but quince isn’t ripe until just before the first frost. So historically, in ye really olden days before refrigeration, quince and strawberries probably never met, which might explain why I couldn’t find a single recipe online for quince-strawberry jam, despite some very clever Google search terms.
So, one rainy November day during the dormant season, I decided to wing it. I shredded the fruit of ~6 quince in a food processor, added 4 quart bags of frozen strawberries, a couple of cups of sugar, and boiled it all together then blended with a stick blender. My approach was very unscientific compared to the instructions on a store-bought box of pectin, and I don’t have a recipe to share because it was very simple: I added sugar until it was sweet enough for my taste, and quince until it was thick enough. You can check the thickness of jam by putting a drop on a frozenpage. If it sets, the jam has enough pectin. If it runs, add more shredded quince and continue to cook.
My quince strawberry jam was a stunning success. I will never again make jam in the middle of the hectic summer.
And that’s what’s great about winter. While I can (and do) complain about the flooding, the freezing pipes, and the low light, in the dormant season I actually have time to do whatever I want. Tasks (like making jam) that I dread as a sweaty time-consuming chore in summer are delightful during the dark days of winter.
And really, a bite of summer strawberries in November is an inspiring thing.