Eat Good Food, Preserve the Season

Macerated Strawberry Jam

Late-season strawberries are almost upon us, and there’s no better way to capture their tender sweetness than with a macerated jam. This technique, adapted from Joyce Goldstein’s new book Jam Session, separates the strawberries from their juices partway through the cooking process. This allows the berries to retain more of their fresh character than they would in a long-cooked preserve. It contains a mix of ripe and underripe strawberries, as the latter provide natural pectin to help the jam set. If you can only find ripe berries, your jam will be looser.

Everbearing strawberry plants bear multiple crops over the course of one season, starting in late spring and continuing into September or even October. Some popular everbearing varieties include Eversweet, Quinault, Seascape, Tribute, and Albion.

Macerated Strawberry Jam
Makes 7 half-pint jars

6 cups ripe strawberries
2 cups not-quite-ripe strawberries
4 cups granulated sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
1 vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, optional
Pinch of salt

Place a few ceramic plates in the freezer for testing the jam’s set.

Rinse, dry, and hull strawberries. In a large preserving pot, gently combine the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice and toss to mix. Set aside to macerate overnight. The next day, add scraped vanilla bean or extract, place over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, watching closely to ensure berries do not boil over. Remove pot from heat and let it sit, uncovered, for 1-2 hours.

Sterilize jam jars by submerging them in boiling water for 10 minutes. Sterilize lids in a smaller pot of boiling water. Leave jars and lids in pots of hot water on the stove until ready to use.

Bring strawberry mixture to a boil again over medium-high heat and cook for 3-5 minutes, until berries are tender. Strain strawberries through a colander, reserving juices. Return the juices to the preserving pot and add lemon juice to taste, plus a pinch of salt. Reduce syrup over medium-low heat, stirring frequently,  until thickened.

Slightly mash the strawberries and return to the pot. While stirring, bring to a boil and cook the jam briefly. To test if preserves are adequately set, drop a spoonful of hot preserves onto a frozen plate and turn the plate vertically for a second or two. If the preserve is finished, the jam will run very slowly, if at all. To double-check, run your finger through the dollop—if the jam wrinkles, it is set. Remove the pot from the heat, and remove vanilla bean, if using.

Bring the water baths back to a boil, and place a baking sheet near your stove. Prepare a ladle, a jam funnel, if using, a wet kitchen cloth to clean jar rims, and clean cloths to protect hands from heat. Using tongs, place jars on the baking sheet. Ladle jam into jars, leaving 1/4″ clearance. Wipe rims clean and set the lids on the mouths of the jars. Twist on the rings.

Using a jar lifter or tongs, gently lower jars into the water bath. Return water to a boil, then decrease to an active simmer and let jars simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave jars in water for a minute or two. Transfer jars out of the pot with tongs and leave at room temperature for 6 hours. Check to make sure that lids are depressed in the center. Any improperly sealed jars will keep in the refrigerator for up to three months. Sealed jam will keep for up to two years.

Grow Your Own

October Gardening Tips

In Northern California, where it’s easy to grow crops year-round, gardening is one pastime that never takes a holiday. In addition to tending the broccoli, chicories, and other greens that do so well through the winter, there are the never-ending tasks that must be done every fall. Here are some of our favorite October gardening tips.

Plant Now – A Cool Weather Garden

Be quick – it’s not too late to plant starts or direct-seed these cool season vegetables, including: peas (English peas, snap peas, snow peas); greens (spinach, arugula, bok choy, mizuna, Asian mustard greens, chard, kale, and short season lettuces); bitter greens (chicories, endives, escarole, radicchio); root vegetables (carrots, radishes, turnips); and coles (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage).

Take a good look at your garden to determine the best areas for planting, remembering that cool-season vegetables need 6-8 hours of daily sun.

See this article on fall and winter vegetable gardening for more tips on vegetables to plant now.

Grow Garlic

Mid to late October is a perfect time to plant garlic.

Sunset Magazine offers these planting instructions: Break bulbs into individual cloves and set them, base down, in rich, well-drained soil. Cover regular garlic with 1 to 2 inches of soil; cover elephant garlic (not a true garlic but a bulbing leek with mild garlic flavor) with 4 to 6 inches of soil. Press the soil down firmly and water well. Continue to irrigate until winter rains keep the soil consistently moist. In late winter, side-dress planting with cottonseed meal or chicken manure.

More tips here on garlic growing.

Mulch Beds
Fall mulching has many benefits, as it conserves soil moisture, suppresses weed growth, and helps regulate soil temperatures.

A 2- to 3-inch layer of straw, shredded leaves, or compost makes a great organic mulch to protect perennials and winter crops such as beets, carrots, onions, parsnips, rutabagas, and turnips.

More about mulch.

Sow Cover Crop

Cover crops such as fava beans and red clover are ideal for putting nutrients back into your soil, minimizing soil erosion, and keeping weed growth to a minimum.

Till or rake empty beds about 2 inches deep, then broadcast seeds and rake in to cover. There’s no need to water if you plant just before the fall rains begin. Overwinter the crop and just as it comes to bloom in spring, cut down the plants for maximum nitrogen benefit, leaving the roots in the soil. Chop up the tops and add to your compost pile.

Here’s a short video on planting cover crops.

Go Native

Native shrubs, trees, and flowers are well-adapted to your climate and soil, and support the butterflies, bees, and other wildlife that live with you. In California, natives are drought-tolerant once they are established, but need adequate water for the first year or two to establish a strong root system that will help nourish the plant for years to come. Planting in the fall gives them time to settle in before being hit by the heat of the summer sun.

Here’s more information on native plants.

Dig Berries

Berries — including blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, and some strawberries — can be planted in the fall through early spring.

When purchasing berry plants, it is best to get plants that are certified disease-free from a nursery. Most berries prefer deep, well-drained, loamy soil with a slightly acidic pH (5.5-6.5). Bare-root plants can be planted in the fall, winter, and early spring. Potted green plants can be planted any time they are available in the nursery. A northern sun exposure is best.

More on growing berries.

Buy Bulbs

Fall is the perfect time to get your spring-blooming bulbs into the ground.  It is generally easier to wait until after the first rains soften the ground to plant them, but buy them now so that you are prepared. Here are some bulb suggestions for Sonoma County; perhaps some of them will work in your neck of the woods.

Rake Up

If you haven’t been raking up those leaves as they drop, get started now. Dried leaves can be added to the compost pile, unless they’re diseased, in which case it’s better to dispose of them in your green bin or through your civic waste cycle.

Here are tips for easiest raking.

Maintain Your Tools

Once the work is done, autumn is the perfect time to clean, sharpen, and oil your garden tools and store them in a dry space.

Steel wool will remove rust build up (be sure to wear gloves when working with steel wool); some gardeners use wax paper throughout the year to wipe cleaned and dried blades after use to prevent/reduce rust.

Here are some useful tool care tips.