Do you ever watch an episode of Bake-Off and boggle when the contestants make jam — in a frying pan? Just because their recipe calls for a small amount of jam for a layer of a cake? How do they do that? Jam must be made in huge quantities, in a gargantuan pot, from flats of berries or massive big baskets of peaches… doesn’t it?
And what happens if you get your fruit home and there’s not enough to make Grandma’s beloved recipe because it calls for 11 pounds of peaches and you’ve only got 7? The recipe will get messed up and jam is already a hot, scary, time-consuming task. Better to just buy a jar and forget about making your own, right?
The time is upon us. If you’re like me, you’ve walked past time huge, hard, tasteless red supermarket strawberries all winter in anticipation of June and Ontario strawberry season. Nothing beats the smell or flavour of an Ontario strawberry, ripe, just picked, and warm from the sun.
Strawberries are a member of the rose family, and while the old bit of trivia claims that strawberries are the only fruit to have their seeds on the outside (which they’re not – cashew fruit and pineapple both have their seeds on the outside) those little yellow things that most people think are the seeds are actually the fruit; the red flesh bit we love to eat is the receptacle.
Dating back to ancient Rome, the strawberry as we know it originated in Europe, and was cultivated in 13th century France for medicinal purposes. The first American species of strawberry was cultivated in 1835 and strawberries grow in every province and every state in Canada and the US. While we normally think of June and July as strawberry season, many farmers now grow a number of “everbearing” varieties that will bear fruit from June until the first frost. Vendors at many Toronto farmers markets (including Nathan Phillips Square and Metro Hall) usually have berries right up until October. There’s been many a year when I’ve had fresh Ontario berries for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning. And if you’re wondering why it’s better to buy local berries, consider what happens to berries from California before they get here.
I haven’t bought jam in years. I’m one of those crazy people who actually makes their own, despite it not actually being any cheaper than buying it from the store.
However, back during my organic phase , I did buy a lot of organic jam, and the main brand I turned to was Crofter’s.
So when a box arrived at my door unannounced – that is, there was no warning that it was coming  , I was a bit perturbed and then intrigued by the collection of “superfruit” spreads.
Crofter’s is a company from Port Perry, Ontario that specializes in fruit products – from jam to juice, everything they make is organic. I’ve been a fan of their stuff for many years, and if I didn’t make my own jams and preserves, Crofter’s would most likely be the brand I’d seek out; their stuff is all certified organic, comes in a diverse range of products and is not overly sweet.
However, I’m not a real fan of the idea of “superfruit”, which is what this new line of spreads (they’re not technically jams because of the sugar to fruit ratio) purports to be. The line of four flavours all start with a base of morello cherries and red grapes and then also include “superfruits” (fruit thought to have anti-oxidant properties) from 4 different continents. North America is represented by a blend of blueberries and cranberries; South America by maqui and passionfruit; Europe has black currants and pomegranate, and Asian includes raspberries and yumberries.
I got an email from some friends recently looking for locally-made jam. They were specifically looking for wee little jars to give out as favours at their upcoming wedding, but as I thought and thought and thought about it, I was having a hard time coming up with anything more than Greaves in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is where they got the idea for wee little jars in the first place.
When most of us think of jam we either head for our favourite supermarket brands or else to the pantry for a jar of homemade. After all, nothing compares to Grandma’s. But the area in between is a grey one. Jams, jellies and preserves that don’t fit into the homemade or supermarket versions often get lumped in with luxury consumables; the kind of thing you’d enjoy if someone gave you a gift basket of the stuff, but not something that you’d necessarily seek out for yourself.
Which is a shame, especially when we’re talking about products made from local fruit, since the abundance of berries and stone fruit available in Southern Ontario each summer is some of the best in the world.