It’s about three weeks until our first CSA pickup for the season, and probably only two weeks until the pick-your-own strawberry patches open up, so I took the plunge and used the last bag of frozen strawberries, with the handful of rhubarb stalks I harvested from the backyard this week, and made some jam. As I have mentioned before, rhubarb and ginger are happy traveling companions, so I figured some candied ginger would be a fine addition to the traditional strawberry-rhubarb combination. Then I added some freshly ground cardamom, left over in the mortar after grinding some for a semolina cake (a really good cake). Game-changer. The flavor of the jam was transformed, from the old-fashioned, almost too sweet and too tart at the same time flavor you expect from this combination, to a bright, fruity, spicy flavor with an amazingly clean finish. It’s perfect for topping waffles (we tried it), and just as wonderful swirled into some plain Greek yogurt.
Cardamom is indigenous to India, and was grown there exclusively until the turn of the 20th century, when a German coffee planter brought it with him to Guatemala, now the world’s largest producer of it. You can get cardamom as a ground spice, or as whole dried pods, but cardamom is really not worth buying already ground, unless you can buy a very small amount and use it up soon afterwards. It loses its flavor and aroma quickly after it’s ground, and you will be left with a jar of tasteless dust. (Ask me how I know.) Even though it is considered the third most expensive spice in the world, behind saffron and vanilla (the pods ripen at different rates, so it must be harvested by hand, pod by pod), it’s worth paying for. You don’t need much to make an impact, and the dried green pods keep for a very long time, cradling the actual treasure inside, the tiny dark seeds.
A mortar and pestle are ideal for grinding them, but you can improvise something to do the job, as they aren’t that hard to grind into a fine powder. (For what it’s worth, a mortar and pestle is one of the best multitaskers you can have in your kitchen.) The moment you crack them, a luscious, floral aroma rises from the pestle, followed by a piney, resinous scent. The flavor is also floral and piney in turns, before the clean, almost minty finish that makes cardamom a popular breath freshener in India and the Middle East. If you’re experimenting, go easy; freshly ground cardamom is quite strong, so a little goes a long way.
Here’s what I used:
Approx. 1 lb. frozen strawberries
1 1/2 cups diced rhubarb
1 cup granulated sugar
1 heaping tablespoon minced candied ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
Here’s what I did:
I combined the strawberries, rhubarb, and sugar in a large saucepan, and brought them to a simmer, stirring frequently, to thaw/soften the fruit and dissolve the sugar. Once there was enough liquid in the pan to cover the fruit, I brought it to a boil, and let it cook down until the fruit was very soft, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. I skimmed the foam off the top of the jam with a shallow spoon, into a bowl. Using a potato masher, I squished the fruit down into a thick pulp, all the while boiling and stirring in between squishing. Once I got the texture I was looking for, I added the ginger and cardamom and cooked the jam until it was thick and glossy. I transferred the very HOT jam into some very CLEAN jam jars (placed on a folded kitchen towel on the counter) and left them to cool. Since this was a very small batch, I did not seal and process the jars for long-term storage; once cooled to room temperature, I covered them and put them in the refrigerator.
The fruit mixture will be very hot, when you are squishing and stirring, and may bubble and pop, so be careful, and turn down the heat briefly if you feel unsure about your safety. Hot melted sugar is one form of culinary lava, and can cause evil burns.
The time the jam needs to thicken will be dependent upon how much moisture was in your fruit to begin with, but you can check to see if it’s properly thickened by putting a spoonful on a plate in the refrigerator for a few minutes. It should set up and not run down the plate when you tip it sideways. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to cook this jam.
It should keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, at least, if your fridge is properly cold.
Last year’s fruit crops were seriously limited by a late hard frost and a hot, dry summer. This year, spring has been lovely here, great for the fruit crops coming this summer. I can’t wait to cook, eat, and preserve as much fruit as I can get my hands on while it’s perfectly ripe, in season, and locally grown.