There’s so much fresh seasonal fruit — burgundy cherries, lipstick-red strawberries — at farmers markets and in Harris Teeter bins lately, it’s like an episode of “Eating Rainbow” out there. But if you don’t want to enjoy this bounty right away, then maybe you should make like Grandma and whip up some homemade jam or jelly. Sweetest of all, it’s not that tough.
Mallory Staley, executive pastry chef at 1789 (1226 36th St. NW; 202-965-1789), has been making jam since she was a little girl, when she helped her grandparents put in jars just-harvested peaches, strawberries and blackberries on their farm outside Frederick, Md. “I was always interested in the process,” she says. “Not that I had a choice. I was given a spoon and put to work.” Now she turns out sweet spreads at work, like her signature strawberry rhubarb, which accompanies 1789′s cheese platters.
The first step in making jam is picking produce that’s up to the job. And — surprise! — that’s not necessarily the same crops you’d choose to snack on. “I get the most flavor out of fruits that are almost rotten,” Staley says. “You want them to be super-ripe and super-delicious.” The riper the fruit, the more natural sugar will be present, so you won’t have to add much refined sugar to your recipe. If you’ve never jammed before, start with something sweet like strawberries so nature corrects beginner’s blunders.