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Happy 4th of July

For me, the highlight of the weekend was the new range. For some reason, the previous owners of our house in Maine opted to install an antique range from the 1930’s, the same kind that Howard spotted Mary Bailey using in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It was cute and vintage, but not that functional. Rumor has it that the previous owners didn’t really cook. I think that must be true.

For one thing the oven never regulated. It had a thermostat, but regardless of the setting, it just kept getting hotter and hotter. That made it difficult to bake anything. I dealt with it, but it was frustrating. The stovetop worked, but, because the oven was on the side, the workspace was awkward. You couldn’t really use more than two burners at once. If the pot or pan was large, you could really only use one at a time.

So, after almost 6 years, we decided to get a new range. We found the perfect replacement, a new range with a vintage look that fit the original space almost exactly. Welcome to our new Aga range!

For the inaugural bake, I made a cherry crisp. We had some leftover sweet cherries, plus I bought a bag of sour cherries at the farmers market earlier in the week. I didn’t bring pans or a rolling pin to Maine, so a pie wasn’t an option. However, a fruit crisp has the same fruit and topping combo with much less fuss. I made a batch of topping similar to the crumble topping from the sour cherry tart I made recently, using ginger and sliced almonds instead of cardamom and pistachios. The oven did its job perfectly. I set the thermostat to 350F. After 40 minutes, the fruit was bubbly and the topping was browned. Nothing burned. Success!

For Howard, the highlight of the weekend was probably raspberry picking at Goss Berry Farm. We discovered this pick-your-own place in Mechanic Falls, Maine, maybe three years ago. Their bushes are planted in neat, perfectly tied up rows. Howard finds it inspiring for the raspberries in our own yard. It’s cute how excited he gets as we walk into the fields. This time, we saw the coolest mechanized picker that must go down the rows and gently knock the berries off the plants. We didn’t see it in action, so can only speculate.

We picked 6 quarts of the beautiful, perfect raspberries. I made about two-thirds of them into raspberry jam (similar to the strawberry jam I told you about a few weeks ago). The rest we’ve been eating for breakfast. But, before they are gone, I hope to make a raspberry tart. I put together the crust tonight. It’s chilling as we speak. That should be dessert tomorrow.

The Fruits of Our Labor

I love when it’s time for strawberry picking. We were in Maine this weekend, where strawberries came in season two and a half weeks early this year.

Saturday was a beautiful sunny day. We went to our favorite local picking fields at Chipman Farm in Poland, Maine. It was Day 8 of their season. The berries were gorgeous. It was so easy to pick perfect berries. We went wild! We picked 23 pounds (two large trays).

We made jam with about half of our harvest. Several years ago, we met an older woman while picking raspberries. She introduced me to concept of making the no-cook version of jam on the pectin box insert. On the downside, the jam isn’t shelf stable and needs to be stored in the freezer. However, there are enough benefits to make it worthwhile to clear out the needed freezer space.

First, after all the blazing hot summer afternoons or evenings I’ve spent standing over a pot of boiling water to sterilize the jars and process the final product, the no-cook recipe lets you “put up” the fruit without any sweat. Secondly, and most important, is the superior taste. The berries aren’t actually cooked, so even in the dead of winter, they will taste just like summer.

First, you mash the berries in a bowl. Then, you combine the sugar and pectin with some water and bring it a rolling boil for one minute. Off heat, you stir in the fruit for one minute. Ta-da! It’s ready to pour into those little Ziploc or Glad (or supermarket brand) plastic containers.

I’ve had excellent luck with the low sugar version, which does require the Low Sugar pectin, not regular. The one thing I noticed is that, once you move the jam from the freezer to the refrigerator, you need to use the jam within a week or two, or it starts to get moldy. With the regular sugar recipe, it lasts in the fridge much longer. However, the low sugar recipe uses 3 cups of sugar to 4 cups of mashed berries per batch where the regular sugar version uses 4 cups of sugar to 2 cups of mashed berries. Because it’s the fruit I want to taste, I’d rather reduce the sugar.

In the end, we made 3 batches of strawberry jam, about 19 containers. We set aside enough strawberries to enjoy fresh for the rest of the week. The remaining berries go into the freezer, where they will be enjoyed in frozen drinks, like daiquiris and margaritas, over the summer.

Strawberry Freezer Jam
Makes 6 cups of jam

4 cups crushed strawberries (start with about 2 quarts ripe strawberries)
3 cups sugar
1 box Sure Jell Pectin For Less or No Sugar Needed
1 cup water

I store my jam in 1-cup sized plastic containers. If you buy them new, be sure to wash them and dry them first.

In a bowl, crush the strawberries, about 1 cup at a time. I use an old-fashioned potato masher, the kind that looks like a grid. I find this works best. You will need exactly 4 cups of crushed berries.

In a large pot, mix the sugar and pectin. Stir in the water. Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. Once it boils, keep stirring for 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Add the berries and stir for 1 minute. The mixture should be well blended.

Immediately fill the containers to within ½ inch of the top. Wipe off the top edges of the containers and cover immediately. Let the jam stand at room temperature for about 24 hours. You can eat it right away, or freeze for up to one year. If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator before using. The jam can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.