Yesterday morning I went out to the hen house in my pajamas at six o’clock in the morning to open the door to the coop. Instead of the usual parade, Beatrice emerged first. She needs a minute or two, thank you very much, to sort out this whole business. When you’re second to last to come down the ladder, well, you can take your time. Florence who comes last is happy to have company a little longer before she has to face the whole teeter, crouch, falter, fall, and recover. But when you have Edna, Clementine, and Edith waiting, well, you had better get yourself moving. There was a hubbub in the coop as they waited and then, one by one, four heads popped out around Beatrice, the center of a parti-colored chicken flower. “Go!” they peeped and clucked and nudged, until Beatrice had no choice but to wobble forward. Of course, once Edna and Clementine got out they overtook her, knocking her sideways off the ladder; patience is not one of their strong suits. Edith came behind, sweetly happy to wait for this slow driver. And Florence waited at the top to watch it all unfold, and then a bit longer; no need to rush these things. Morning with the chickens is one of my favorite parts of the day now, a few quiet minutes just watching them and talking to them. Little Annie, our terrier, curls up in the grass under a chair and waits for me until it’s time to head back into the house to start the day properly, to make oatmeal and a pot of coffee for my Dear Husband. Of course, I planned the placement of the hen house so that its entrance is the shortest path possible from the house when it is 30 degrees below zero with a howling wind that’s even colder. That seems a long way off now, though.
Yesterday it was a beastly hot day here, but somehow I couldn’t resist making jam. We cranked up the air conditioning for a couple of hours and made a big batch. In truth, it’s one of the few days it has really felt like summer here this year, so making jam felt like a long overdue ritual. We skipped the hot canning process and just made a refrigerator jam. It will keep for a couple of weeks, but it will be long gone by then at our house. The best part of this recipe is the candied lemon slices. I love candied fruit and make it quite often, but I was quite surprised by it in this jam: not a trace of bittersweetness, just summer sweetness and light. I think it’s cooking with the strawberries and all that sugar. It’s brilliant, really.
Strawberry Lemon Verbena Refrigerator Jam with Candied Lemon Slices
Yield: 2 quarts
3 lemons, sliced as thinly as possible (lop off and discard the ends)
1 c. sugar
½ c. water
¼ c. fresh lemon juice
3 pounds strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
1 c. loosely packed lemon verbena leaves tied with string into a cheesecloth bundle
3 c. sugar
- In a small saucepan, stir together the lemon slices, 1 c. sugar, water, and lemon juice.
- Bring it to a simmer over high heat. Then lower the heat and simmer gently until the lemon slices are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Place the strawberries, lemon verbena, 3 c. sugar, the candied lemon slices and all of their cooking liquid in a large pan.
- Bring it to a simmer over high heat. Lower the heat and simmer gently, giving the lemon verbena pouch a good bashing with a wooden spoon, and skimming the foam from the top and discarding it.
- Cook the jam until the fruit is soft, the liquid syrupy, and a small amount placed a cool saucer gels nicely, about 30 minutes.
- Fish out and discard the pouch of lemon verbena. Using a funnel, ladle the jam into clean quart jars and top them tightly with lids.
- Allow the jam to come to room temperature. Then store it in the refrigerator. It will keep for a couple of weeks.