This old fashion preserve recipe captures the vibrant sweetness in ripe strawberries. Unlike most jams, this does not contain store bought pectin which can dilute the luscious flavor in the berries. Many commercial jams and home recipes include pectin for better success creating a gel but as a result they require more processed sugar and salt to achieve the desired sweetness.
Miss Edna Lewis, the “Grande Dame of Southern Cooking” was able to eliminate pectin by heating the sugar separately until very hot but not browned. This allows the jam to boil more evenly and the heated sugar dissolves more quickly into the mash reducing the time on the stove. Sugar can be heated in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or over a double boiler until very hot. Then the sugar is poured over the crushed berries and blended on high heat for about 9 minutes.
You will know when the jam is ready by doing a spoon test. Place a spoonful of jam on a plate and if it spreads just a little, it is ready. If it runs, then keep on cooking but make sure to stir so you do not scorch the bottom.
Anne Quatrano, Matt Adolfi, and Jonathan Kallini made Miss Edna’s Garden Preserves along with buttermilk biscuits and sage spiced sausage for the Morningside Market. Anne and her husband, Clifford Harrison run a 60 acre farm called Summerland Farm where they plant 6,000 strawberry plants on a hill each September. They harvest 200 pounds of Sweet Charlie strawberries a week and preserve many of them in this jam. The Sweet Charlie strawberries have low acidity making them very sweet but perishable. They are best eaten right off the vine unlike the ones in the supermarket with the firm and plump skin that can be shipped across the US without many blemishes.
You will find this recipe in The Taste of Country Cooking. Miss Edna provides valuable insight on creating pure and simple delights in her cookbooks: The Edna Lewis Cookbook, In Pursuit of Flavor, The Taste of Country Cooking, and Gift of Southern Cooking. They were awarded the James Beard Cookbook of Fame Award in 2003.
She is one of the most respected authors on true Southern cooking and traditions; her warmth and love radiates in her writing. If you ever want to understand why Southerns are so proud of their food and heritage, you should read her essay “What Is Southern?” which was published in Gourmet Magazine and honored with a James Beard Award for magazine writing in 2009.
Miss Edna’s artistry and friendly personality attracted many celebrities to Cafe Nicholson on the Upper East Side in New York. William Faulkner, Marlon Brando, Marlene Dietrich, Tennessee Williams, Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes, Salvador Dali, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Truman Capote to name a few. I wish I had the chance to sit down with her on a cool spring day and listen to her stories while sampling some of her favorites: buttermilk biscuits and strawberry preserves, fresh lemonade, fried chicken, collard greens, blackberry cobbler and lemon vanilla, pound cake. Hopefully the memoir to be published by Scott Peacock tentatively titled An Uncommon Friendship will give more insight into this extraordinary lady.
Memorable Comments from Miss Edna Lewis
“Once when William Faulkner came to dinner, he stopped to chat for a moment. He wanted to know if I had studied in Paris. I was flattered of course, but more flattered that I hadn’t.”
On baking a cake- ” I just listen to it. When it is done, it will be quiet.”
“The look of a dish is important, yes, but if there is no taste, no flavor, then it’s a failure.”
“My aim is for uncomplicated cooking with good taste.”
“When you cook for family and friends, you care about them and want to make a nice meal with good taste. Are you going to do that in just five minutes? That stuff has no taste if it’s been in a packet.”
Alice Waters and I raised money together for Meals on Wheels (in NYC) and we were the only women.”
“We are so far removed from the land and nature nowadays. No one even knows what the season is for asparagus anymore.”
“My advice to young people who want to become chefs is to first learn how food is grown. Young aspiring chefs today should go to work on an organic farm in order to appreciate food.”
1) Prep and Crush Berries- Wash the berries in a bowl of cold water to make sure they are free of grit and dust. Place on a clean, dry towel to drain. When well drained, remove the caps and put the berries in a measuring cup or non-aluminum saucepan and crush the berries slightly with a clean, odorless wooden pestle, muddler or strong coffee mug. Set pan over a low flame to heat.
2) Heat sugar- Meanwhile, heat the sugar either in a double boiler or in a dish in the oven, being careful not to brown it, but making sure it becomes very hot, about 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
3) Rapid Boiling- Now pour the hot sugar over the berries, turning the burner up while stirring the sugar around. The cooking should be as brisk as possible without scorching, it should take about 9 minutes in all. As soon as the preserves begin to boil up, a scum will rise on the surface. Skim it off right away with a wooden or silver spoon. It is much better to skim while it’s rapidly boiling because that seems to cause the scum to remain in a mass and it is easy to dip it out without getting too much syrup.
4) To Can- After 9 minutes of rapid cooking, pour preserves into hot, sterilized jars, filling to about 1/8″ from the top. Lift the jars out onto a dry surface to cool. When cold, carefully melt paraffin and pour into filled jars. When paraffin is cool, put on the lids and seal. Makes 5 5 ounce jars. Enjoy on warm buttermilk biscuits, over poundcake, turkey melts, and spicy sausage.
Edna Lewis A Tribute In Commemoration of Her Eightieth Year, April 13, 1996
A Tribute To Edna Lewis, WCR National Conference, November 19, 2006, Atlanta, Georgia
Lewis: Famous Dined at Southern Chef’s Table, Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday, February 14, 2006
I want to thank Ann Brewer, the founder of Georgia Grown for sharing all the articles, quotes and tributes about Miss Edna.