Food

How to Put a Garden in a Jar

Bee (insect)

Edon Waycott's strawberry jam tastes like strawberries, only more so. Strawberries squared. Strawberries to the nth degree.

It could be that this is the way jam used to taste before we stopped making our own and started buying the processed stuff. But one can't be sure that the jams of yesteryear were ever quite this good. Waycott's jam is the nearest thing to a garden in a bottle.

While conserving fruit is considered an art in France, Waycott is lost for words at how to describe herself. "I wouldn't know what to put on a business card," she jokes. She describes jam-making as one of a continuum of pursuits. Since art college in New York in the '60s, these have included painting, fabric design and cookery writing, including a book on jam, "Preserving the Taste" (Hearst, 1993).

It was a passion for bread, she says, that led her to experiment with jams. This took the form of a collaboration with chef Mark Peel and baker Nancy Silverton, proprietors of Campanile restaurant and La Brea Bakery. She devised the jam recipes for both places.

The day we visit her ranch house bordering the Santa Monica Mountains in Malibu, the scent of strawberries carries out of the house, across the courtyard, clear to the driveway.

Inside the kitchen, 8 quarts of strawberries simmer in a wide, surprisingly shallow copper-lined French braising pan. "People always think they should be jam-making in a deep pot," she says. "When you don't use commercial pectin, you want the evaporation." The secret, she sums up, is slow cooking in a wide-mouth pot.

At first, her accumulated wisdom tumbles out in a succession of dos and don'ts. Don't use frozen fruit, or bruised or rotten produce, she warns. Good jam starts with the fruit.

The strawberries simmering before her come from up the Pacific Coast Highway in Oxnard. They were bought at the Santa Monica farmers market a day earlier. After rinsing and hulling the berries, the first step is to macerate them in sugar and "a little lime juice" overnight. "It draws out the juices," she explains.

She reserves extra emphasis for the next rule. "Don't," she says, "cut them up. Leave them whole." Pureed strawberry jam, she says, "is just red."

The next trick is the slowest possible cooking. "Don't add water," she says. The art is removing the water, allowing the fruit to cook down to the point that the three cartons of fruit are captured in an 8-ounce jar.

As the pot of strawberries nears ready, Waycott darts into a larder to retrieve jams that she made earlier--much earlier. As she sets out elegantly labeled little jars, the strictures subside and enchantment sets in. Waycott cannot quite conceal the rapture behind these neat little vessels. They sum up a year in her garden.

From winter, there are citrus marmalades: grapefruit and orange and Meyer lemon. "It's so aromatic," she says, practically purring as she uncaps the Meyer lemon.

Then she offers a jam she knows will stump the taster. It is an amber jelly that is neither tart nor sweet. If there were an ale for bees, this would be it. "It's guava," says Waycott, gleaming. "As you cook it, it looks like dishwater. But as it cooks, it turns amber. It's so exotic."

Within minutes of tasting the guava jelly, we are outside a pair of garden doors, being instructed to pinch blossoms off a nearby blooming pineapple guava hedge. "Eat them!" she cries. They are succulent, slightly sweet and, again, arrestingly strange. "I have trouble leaving any flowers for fruit," she confesses. "I could eat every blossom on the tree."

And so begins the tour of Waycott's real love: her garden. To love jam, one realizes, one must love fruit. For Waycott, to love fruit is to grow it. She leads us past trees and shrubs that will bear mulberries, blood oranges, apricots, lemons. There are Satsumas, plums, pomegranates. Of course, grapes--Concord and Muscat.

It is tempting to go on about the unusual varieties (the mulberries are Persian mulberries, the apricots Royal Blenheims, etc.) or 65 varieties of old roses, or the herb garden where pennyroyal and savory thrive, or the native California lilacs.

But suffice it to say here that if this small, intense woman were a bird, she would be a hummingbird. Waycott spends her days on missions for nectar. Once she captures it, she preserves it with rare and wondrous perfectionism.

Waycott's jams are sold at La Brea Bakery, 624 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 939-6813. An 8-ounce jar is $8.

Slow-Cooked Strawberry Preserves

Active Work Time: 20 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 1/2 hours plus 3 hours standing

T his recipe is from Edon Waycott.

3 to 4 quarts fresh strawberries, about 12 pint baskets

2 cups sugar, or to taste

3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice

Lightly rinse the berries without submerging them in water. Remove the hulls, leaving the berries whole. Combine the berries, sugar and juice in a nonaluminum bowl. Allow them to macerate at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for at least 3 to 4 hours. The mixture can be covered and refrigerated overnight at this point.

Pour the mixture into a wide, shallow 6-to 8-quart saucepan and set the pan over high heat. Bring to a boil, skim the foam that collects on the surface, then reduce the heat to low. Make sure bubbles continue to break the surface. After about 20 minutes, the berries will give up additional juices and appear to be floating. Continue cooking them, stirring more often, and skimming the foam for about 1 hour.

The jam is almost done when it turns dark red and the ratio of berries to juice is about equal. Watch and stir the jam often. See tips for doneness and canning instructions.

5 (8-ounce) jars. Each tablespoon: 27 calories; 0 sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 7 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.61 gram fiber.

Apricot and Honey Jam

Active Work Time: 30 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 1/2 hours plus 3 hours standing

Soft, ripe apricots make jam with the most flavor, and they cook down and thicken faster. Taste the mixture before, during and after cooking to sweeten to your own liking. This jam will darken in the jar over time. This recipe is from Edon Waycott.

6 pounds apricots (about 50)

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup mild honey, such as orange blossom or clover, or equal amount of sugar

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Wash the apricots. Cut them in half through the natural indentation and remove the pits. Slice each half into 2 lengthwise strips. There should be approximately 4 quarts.

In a large nonaluminum bowl, gently combine the apricot slices, sugar, honey and lemon juice. Allow the mixture to stand at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours, stirring several times to keep the fruit coated and to help the juices dissolve the sugar.

Place the fruit mixture in a 6-to 8-quart shallow pan and bring to a boil over high heat. With a metal spoon or fine mesh skimmer, skim off any foam that collects on the surface and reduce the heat to medium. Continue cooking and skimming, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick with a few chunks left, 50 to 60 minutes, and the whole mass appears slightly glazed.

See tips for doneness and canning instructions.

9 (8-ounce) jars. Each tablespoon: 23 calories; 0 sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 6 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.43 gram fiber.

Crushed Boysenberry Jam

Active Work Time: 15 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour plus 4 hours standing

Boysenberries are a delicious cross between a raspberry and a blackberry. They are soft and delicate like the raspberry with the distinct tartness and seeds of the blackberry, often growing to half as large as your thumb. If the seeds bother you, press about half of the finished mixture through a mesh sieve in small batches. Because this jam is not stiff, it will also pour very nicely over vanilla ice cream. This recipe is from Edon Waycott.

2 quarts boysenberries, rinsed and lightly packed

3 cups sugar, or to taste

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine the berries, sugar and lemon juice in a large nonaluminum bowl. With a potato masher or large metal spoon, press gently on the berries to bruise and lightly crush them. This allows the juices to start exuding freely. Allow the fruit to macerate at room temperature for at least 4 hours, stirring occasionally, and as long as overnight (covered and refrigerated).

Pour the contents of the bowl into a wide, shallow saucepan (not unlined aluminum or iron) and bring to a boil over high heat. With a metal spoon or fine mesh skimmer, skim off any foam that collects on top and reduce the heat to moderate. Continue cooking the fruit mixture for 25 to 35 minutes, stirring constantly the last 10 minutes to prevent the jam from sticking to the pan. When the bubbles begin to change from large intermittent ones to very small all-over ones, the jam is ready. The mixture should be reduced by half and will look like bubbling tar. The jam will thicken more while cooling.

See tips for doneness and canning instructions.

5 (8-ounce) jars. Each tablespoon: 36 calories; 0 sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 9 carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.52 gram fiber.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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