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Jam and bread
Fig-and-orange jam is one of the many interesting flavor combinations offered at the breakfast table at the Hotel Diderot in Chinon, France. Learn their secrets for making delicious strawberry jam in the recipe below.
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Hotel Diderot proprietor Jamie Schler (left) walked chef Belinda Smith-Sullivan through the art of making homemade jam in her French kitchen.
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A large, copper pan with shallow, sloping sides is ideal for making jam.
I never pass up an opportunity to learn something new in the kitchen. A few months ago, I had the pleasure of visiting my good friend Jamie Schler—a transplanted Floridian—at her quaint, family-run hotel in the Loire Valley town of Chinon, France. The Hotel Diderot, in the town’s medieval section, is famed for its wide-ranging assortment of fresh-fruit jams, made in-house every day and served to guests as part of their relaxing breakfast ritual.
Naturally, I was curious about the time and effort Jamie invests in this daily production, in addition to running her hotel. She is never at a loss for fruits to concoct creative flavor combinations for her popular jams, as the Loire Valley, one of France’s most prominent wine regions, has a temperate climate that makes it conducive to growing an abundant variety of fruits and vegetables year-round.
One afternoon, Jamie invited me to participate in the process. It started with several pounds of fruit being peeled, prepped and processed for its final journey to the jam jar. The first thing that struck me was the vessel used for cooking the fruit—her revered, copper jam pan. Copper is a great conductor of heat; that means the fruit cooks faster, without boiling away its flavor, texture and color. Its shallow, sloping sides let the moisture evaporate upward, instead of running back into the mixture and diluting it. While a copper pan is not the only pot that can be used for jam making, I quickly learned that it is the most efficient.
I was pleasantly surprised that it took us less than 1½ hours from the time we started cooking the fruit until we finished jarring it. No doubt the process took Jamie longer than usual, because she had to answer all my rapid-fire questions during our jam-making session! But I was delighted to get this one-on-one lesson in the art and science of making jam. Even more fun was getting to sample many of the more than 50 flavors she has created to date. On each breakfast table, every day, there were eight to 10 jars lined up. Guests are encouraged to visit neighboring tables to try additional flavors. This sociable tradition means guests not only enjoy tasting Jamie’s many jams, they also make new friends from around the world.
I couldn’t end my visit to the Hotel Diderot without buying several jars of Jamie’s jam to bring back as gifts for friends. Jamie was also gracious enough to share her strawberry jam recipe with me, so that I could share it with you (see below). Since I have a strawberry patch in my home garden, I’m ready to get busy with my own jam-making project—using my newly acquired copper pan!
Making Hotel Diderot strawberry jam
by Jamie Schler
When strawberries are in season, at their most sweet and flavorful, jam is a beautiful way to preserve them for keeping and enjoying the rest of the year. The scientific precision of jam making keeps the process simple and reassuring, yet the flexibility offers wiggle room for corrections and creative adaptations.
For the Hotel Diderot, I usually work with about 6–7 pounds of strawberries at a time, which produces about 12 to 14 one-cup jars of jam. You can adjust the amount of added sugar for any quantity of fruit you have to suit your taste. Always work with fresh, ripe, seasonal fruit. If the strawberries are tart or acidic, don’t worry; as long as they are flavorful, the cooking process with bring out the natural sweetness of the fruit.
Strawberry jam is a favorite at the Hotel Diderot, but don’t stop there! Adding rosemary, mint, a vanilla bean, a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or balsamic reduction, or a teaspoon of cinnamon will make fabulous, intriguing new flavors. Simply understand that the flavor will be stronger when the jam is very hot and will fade or lighten once the jam is at room temperature. Strawberries also pair beautifully with fresh figs, peaches, rhubarb or bananas.
Jamie’s strawberry jam
Makes 12–14 one-cup jars
6½ pounds fresh strawberries
About 8 cups sugar
Prepare the strawberries by hulling them—cutting off the cap of leaves and any hard core just beneath the cap, removing as little of the fruit as possible. Slice larger berries in 4 pieces, smaller strawberries in 2. Place all the prepared fruit in a very large container; I use a plastic bucket. If adding a vanilla bean, fresh herbs (such as rosemary or mint) or another fruit (such as peaches or rhubarb), add to the prepared strawberries in this container for macerating (softening the fruit).
Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the strawberries in the container. Pour the sugar on top of the fruit, cover the container with a clean cloth and allow to macerate overnight. (Refrigeration is optional.)
The following day, gather some supplies:
- a large, heavy-bottomed pan for cooking the jam (copper is preferable)
- a bowl for discarding skimmed foam during cooking
- a skimmer or a slotted spoon
- a large, wooden spoon for stirring the jam as it cooks
- kitchen mitts or potholders
- teaspoons for tasting
- a few small plates and spoons placed in the freezer, to test for doneness
- a ladle
- a spouted, heat-proof container for pouring the jam into jars (I use a Pyrex 2-cup measuring cup)
- 12–14 clean, sterilized jars with tight-fitting lids, ready on a tray
- If you want to puree the berries (which I do), have an immersion blender ready as well
Scrape the fruit and sugar from the bucket into your copper jam pan, and bring to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring often. Strawberries will foam quite a bit, so if the level rises and risks boiling over, or if the jam spits, lower the heat as needed under the pan, as long as you keep the jam at a rolling boil. With your skimmer or slotted spoon, skim thickened foam as it collects on the surface, and discard it into a bowl. Watch the jam carefully, and stir often, as it can burn if left unattended.
At the end of about 15 minutes, using the immersion blender, very carefully puree most, but not all, of the berries in the pot, keeping the head of the blender completely under the level of the liquid. Pureeing is optional.
Cook the strawberries another 10 minutes (for a total cooking time of about 25 minutes). Carefully taste the jam; if it is too sweet, add the juice of the second lemon. The jam is ready to jar when the juices have thickened and darkened and the bubbles on the surface get larger, then slow and thicken (making a gentle "gloop gloop" sound). To test for doneness, take a small plate and spoon out of the freezer, and spoon a large drop of jam on the cold plate; the jam should set and wrinkle when pushed gently with your finger. If it does not do this, continue cooking the jam for a few more minutes before testing again.
When the jam is ready to jar, lower the heat under the pan to low; you want to keep the jam over a low flame to keep its temperature high. Carefully ladle some jam into a heat-proof, spouted container or Pyrex measuring cup. Ideally, you should work with two jars at a time. Quickly lift off the lids of two jars, and pour in jam up to the bottom of the rim/neck of each jar, where the screw lines begin. Tightly screw on the lids, and flip jars upside down onto the tray, allowing the jars to cool top down, bottom up. The high heat of the jam will seal the jar. Keep the jars upside down until tepid or cooled (about 1½ to 2 hours). Continue to stir the jam around and up from the bottom of the copper pan between scooping more into the Pyrex to keep the jam from burning or the fruit from sinking to the bottom. Turn off the heat when you are down to the last couple of jars.
Continue this process until you have filled all the jars, allowing all jars to cool to room temperature upside down. When they have cooled, flip the jars top up; the jars should have all sealed. Jars make a popping sound as they seal. To check the seal, press down on the top center of the lid of a cooled jar with your thumb. If it springs back up, it is unsealed. If it remains slightly curved down, it is sealed.
Unsealed jars should be stored in the refrigerator and eaten immediately, within a week. Sealed jars can be kept in a cupboard for up to one year. Once opened, I keep the jams I use for breakfast in the hotel at room temperature for about a week. The jam I keep for our personal use I store in the refrigerator for several weeks after it has been opened.