With the onset of summer comes also a bounty of strawberries. Add to those berries a bit of sugar and plenty of sunlight, and you have a strawberry jam recipe fit for the season's best mornings — with a slice of good toast, of course.
The recipe comes from Amy Thielen, the host of Food Network's Heartland Table, but she got it from a familiar source. Thielen explains: "Years ago, my grandma gave me a recipe from her files, and it was a really interesting one. It was called 'strawberry sun jam.' "
So, what makes it interesting? "The sun actually cooks the jam."
If it sounds simple, well, that's because it is. Just mash the berries with some sugar, boil them briefly and let the whole mixture sit out in the sunshine. And while you're at it, be sure to set it in a spot — elevated and screened — where bugs can't get to it.
The wait for it to thicken takes about eight hours, but it's by no means tedious. In fact, Thielen loves it as a family activity.
"It's a really fun thing for kids to watch happen," she says. "It is kind of like a sweet science experiment."
Strawberry Sun Jam
Makes 6 half-pints
16 cups (4 quarts) ripe strawberries, trimmed of green tops and rinsed
6 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Cheesecloth or a large piece of clean screen
If they look sandy, give them a quick rinse and then dry on toweling. Trim the green tops, cut in half if large and pour the strawberries into a wide-bottomed, nonreactive saucepan.
Add the sugar and lemon juice. Crush the berries lightly with a potato masher, leaving medium-size chunks of fruit. Bring the mixture to a full boil over high heat, stirring often, and then immediately cut the heat.
Prepare a stable, level outside table for the sun jam. Divide the strawberry mixture between two rimmed (14.75 inches x 9.75 inches) baking sheets. Carefully walk the filled baking sheets outside. Cover with a layer of cheesecloth or screen, tucking it beneath the pan to hold it taut above the surface of the strawberries.
Leave the jam to evaporate in the hot sun until it thickens. When done, the jam will hold the trace of a spatula for two to three seconds before oozing back in to fill the space, and a droplet will feel a bit sticky when pinched between your thumb and forefinger.
Depending on the intensity of the sun, this will take between eight and 24 hours. Set the jam out in the morning to take advantage of as many sunlight hours as possible, and if you need to carry it over to the next day, bring it inside at night.
Pour the finished jam into clean, sterilized glass jars filled to 1/2 inch from the brim, top with clean lids and rims and store in the refrigerator for up to six months, or in the freezer up to 1 year.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. Here's a question for you. What do you do with a bounty of fresh strawberries, some sugar and plenty of sun? Well, you make today's found recipe, which comes to us from Amy Thielen.
AMY THIELEN: Years ago, my grandma gave me a recipe from her files, and it was a really interesting on. It was called strawberry sun jam. So the sun actually cooks the jam.
BLOCK: That's right. If we can brew iced tea with the sun, why not make jam?
THIELEN: It tastes like it's candied, like lightly candied.
BLOCK: And she says it's pretty, too. Thielen is a Minnesotan, a home-cook, author of "The New Midwestern Table" and a master of the technique of making strawberry sun jam.
THIELEN: It seems to me that this is an old farmhouse recipe that takes the jam making out of the kitchen. So on a really, really hot day, why not just use the sun? Why would you, you know, go through the process of boiling water inside the house and making the house hot? Why not just put it out there where it already is hot? I know, it sounds so romantic, doesn't it? OK, so what you want to do, is you just want to trim the strawberries and then you want to cut them in half if they're large. And you add the sugar and you want to use a big wide pot, something with a wide bottom. And you'll use a potato masher and you'll mash the berries and sugar together. And then you're going to bring it to a boil really quick, and then once it's boiled, you turn off the heat. That's the only proper cooking that takes place. So pour that mixture into a shallow sheet tray, just like a cookie sheet with a rim - just like a thin layer, maybe about half an inch high. You want to put that out in the sun with a layer of cheese cloth. And that will keep the bugs away. And you want to elevate it a little and take it off the ground because you don't want the ants in there. All you want is for the evaporation to take place and you're looking for it to thicken. Then you just take this jam and you put it into clean glass jars. And you could process this in a hot water bath so that you could put it on your shelf, now I never do that. I mean I've done that with lots of jams but with this jam - this one's so precious that I just put it right in the fridge. Strawberry sun jam, OK, so I've done it a bunch of times and it only takes me eight hours. It's a really fun thing for kids to watch happen, you know? All day we can be checking on it, making sure there's no bugs in it, watching the evaporation take place, watching it thicken. It is kind of like a sweet science experiment.
BLOCK: Amy Thielen, a host of Food Network's "Heartland Table." Full instructions and pretty pictures of jam in jars, are on our found recipes page at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.