A Tribute to Strawberry Salad

I took a food writing class back in November with the very talented Chris Nuttall-Smith, former Globe & Mail critic. I signed up on a whim last-minute, giving myself something concrete with which to distract myself from recipe testing and manuscript writing alone all day.

The first day of class, we were asked to bring a passage that made us hungry. I puzzled over it for awhile, and ended up bringing a Nigella Lawson restaurant review from the 90s and my favorite new cookbook, La Grotta Ices by Kitty Travers, a bookmark at the page about kiwis.

As my fellow students (as diverse an assortment of adults as I imagine any continuing education class to be) read out their selections, I started to realize that I’d misinterpreted the exercise. I hadn’t picked passages that necessarily made me hungry to eat anything– no descriptions of restaurants or of nostalgic desserts. Instead I’d picked passages that made me hungry to read about food–because they were curious and funny and intriguing, feeding me strange facts and lighting up my imagination.

Some of my favorite cookbooks are ones from which I’ve never cooked a recipe but have read as one would a novel. Therein I find vicarious pleasures, inspiration, entertainment. Even if I never prepare a recipe, I will still take some idea I found there and usher it into one of my own recipes.

That’s what’s so great about Kitty Travers’ book. I read it cover-to-cover before bed over the course of a few nights, looking forward to it each day. And while it did make me hungry (very, mostly for fruit), her writing does so much more than that.

But actually I have made a few of the La Grotta Ices recipes–Damson Gelato with Grappa, Black Currant Gelato, Apricot Noyaux Gelato–all of which were awe-inspiring, so much more fruit-forward than any other gelato or ice creams I’ve made. The trouble, though, is that there are only two of us in my house and we’ve been up against an incredible onslaught of desserts while I write my new cookbook, so making more ice cream is very impractical at the moment.

So I decided to make a jam that I’ve been thinking about ever since I read Travers’ recipe for Strawberry Salad Gelato, which incorporates whole lemon and orange into a strawberry base, resulting in “tangy multidimensional strawberry flavor” that tastes a lot like strawberry Starburst. Just like the citrus adds pectin to the gelato and improves the texture, whole citrus added to strawberry jam, which is quite low in pectin, contributes to a beautiful set. The flavor is complex and a little mysterious. It’s definitely strawberry, but what else is in there?

This recipe is a perfect using frozen domestic strawberries in the wintertime, but if you prefer you can freeze a Seville orange and a Meyer lemon right now, while they’re in season, and make it in the summertime with fresh local strawberries, and it will probably be even better. That said, I’ll have a hard time resisting combining those strawberries with pink currants or who knows what else, so I’d rather make this now and perfume my winter kitchen with the scent of strawberry salad. Thank you, Kitty!

Strawberry Salad Jam

Makes five 250mL jars

1 Meyer lemon (about 92g)
1 Seville orange (about 180g)
1kg hulled strawberries
775g (3 3/4 c. + 2 T.) sugar
60g (1/4 c.) lemon juice

Put the Meyer lemon and Seville orange in a small pot that hold them both snugly in a single layer. Add water to cover by at least  a 1/2″. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until tender, about an hour. Remove from heat and let rest overnight at room temperature.

Combine strawberries, sugar and lemon juice and allow to macerate overnight.

The next day, prepare jars.

Moosh the strawberries using your clean hands. They should be easy to smash now that the sugar has softened them.

Halve the citrus and carefully remove the seeds without spilling any juice. Tear them into pieces, removing the stem nubbin as well, and puree them in a blender or food processor. Alternatively, carefully chop them as finely as possible. Add to the strawberries.

Transfer mixture to a pot or preserving pan. Heat on medium-high and boil hard, stirring frequently.

When the setting point is reached, remove from heat and pour into prepared jars to within a 1/4”- 1/8” of the rim. Remove any air bubbles, wipe the rims, seal, and invert 1 to 2 minutes.

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