Paris preserves

Preserved strawberries over yogurt

In a few day’s time, I am off to North America for a week. I am leaving Paris on Thursday morning and I won’t be back here for a week and a half. Then it’s a few days in the city of grands boulevards and I’m back on the train for a long weekend in Amsterdam.

All of these are wonderful things, which mean I will get to see Montreal and Washington, go thrifting with my mom, see friends I miss and spend time in what I still think of as my real home. However. It is three weekends away from Paris markets in my favorite food season. The rhubarb is here. The first asparagus. Watercress, artichokes. Asparagus. Oh my, the asparagus. I do so hope there will be a few left when I get back.

Blood orange peel

Sure, there are markets in Amsterdam  as well. Even though they are not big on artichokes, rhubarb and asparagus are almost sure to be had. But I won’t have much time to cook them while home and transporting fresh produce across hundreds of miles to do the cooking in Paris seems… daft, and surely impractical. So there was a bit of panick-buying this weekend.

The man and I cycled to Marché de Grenelle on Sunday and came back with a large bag of strawberries, an even larger bag of asparagus, a kilo of apples, a roasted chicken (no, not seasonal produce, but it was so tasty I thought it deserved a mention) and a fat bundle of rhubarb. We would have gotten artichokes too, but then my arms got tired from ferrying around the stuff I already had and I took a hint.

Blood orange

Back home, the large pile of produce delighted me (hee hee! spring may be grey but at least I am eating it in beautiful colors) but also presented me with a dilemma. What to do so that none of these pretty things would spoil before I could eat them? The answer, I felt, lay in preserving.

This put me in a bit of a pickle, if you will excuse the pun. See, I love the idea of making jams and preserves but I don’t actually like the reality of them that much. I won’t sniff at a lick of jam on a fresh cream scone. The occasional slice of buttered baguette with raspberry preserves isn’t bad. But beyond that? The problem is that they’re… not cheese. I will always prefer something cheesy at breakfast and snack time.

Good thing, then, that at the back of my mind a voice piped up saying “Orangette doesn’t like jam either, and she still made those delicious sounding preserved strawberries”. (Yes, the voice at the back of my mind has an uncanny knack for remembering food preferences of bloggers.) A few minutes later I had unearthed the recipe and I set to work on these:

Preserved strawberries

Produce issue 1 solved, and deliciously so. These preserved strawberries aren’t jam at all. They are strawberries, but softer and sweeter and lightly cloaked in syrup so you can spoon them over things. Like a bowl of yoghurt, which will be my train breakfast on Thursday morning. Mmmm. Yoghurt and preserved strawberries. Doesn’t that sound like a much better breakfast than “stale role from a station outlet with plasticky cheese”? I think so.

Produce issue 2 was the rhubarb, and that took a bit more effort to solve. No back of mind references on that one, and most rhubarb recipes I dug up required an oven, which my Parisshoebox unfortunately does not possess. Until I turned to WednesdayChef and found this. Rhubarb grapefruit preserves. Not the jackpot, I thought, given my jam-indifference, but worth a try.

Rhubarb preserves

And was it ever. I had some blood oranges that also needed using (a previous trip to the market, if you must know), so I substituted the grapefruit with blood orange. The two mingled for a while with lots of sugar before getting cooked down into a dark mauve-colored slurry that is in-cre-di-bly good. So good that I have been having trouble keeping my spoon out of the Tupperware of preserves that is now sitting in my fridge. Good thing most of the preserves made it into s sterilized jar to be used at a later date. Preferably with the man around, because otherwise I might make a mockery out of my jam-aversion by emptying the jar in one sitting. And that would be a real Paris tragedy.

Preserved strawberries

From a Bon Appetit recipe found on Orangette

  • 500 gr strawberries, washed, dried, hulled, halved
  • peel (with pith) of half a lemon
  • ¾ cup sugar

Put all ingredients in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot. Cover and let sit for at least two hours to dissolve the sugar. If you’re around, stir every so often. The mixture will get very juicy.

Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook until strawberries are just tender, about three minutes. Take the strawberries out of the pan and put them in a clean jar, but leave the liquid and the lemon peel. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook until it has a syrupy consistency (about 2 minutes). Discard the lemon peel. Pour the syrup over the strawberries, close the jar and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate. Orangette says they should last up to a month, but I have a sneaking suspicion mine won’t make it that long.

Rhubarb blood-orange preserves

Based on a Chez Panisse recipe found on WednesdayChef 

  • 500 gr rhubarb
  • 1 blood orange
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • sterilized jam jars

Place a saucer in the refrigerator.

Clean the rhubarb and cut in into a smallish dice. Peel the blood-orange (you can leave some white pith on the skin) and very finely chop the peel. Combine the rhubarb dice with the orange peel in a heavy bottomed pan, add the sugar and the juice of the orange. Mix, and marinate for at least 30 minutes to dissolve the sugar and extract some juice from the rhubarb.

Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Boil for a few minutes, skimming off any foam that may form. Stir regularly until the rhubarb seems to have mostly disintegrated, then start checking for consistency by dropping a small amount of preserves on the refrigerated saucer. The quick cooling shows you what the consistency of the finished product will be. Cook until the jam is the consistency you like, then pour into sterilized jars and seal as instructed.

(I am not a very good canner, so cannot give you foolproof instructions. A quick Google search will yield lots of methods, including the one I used: zapping the cleaned, wet jar in the microwave for a minute, pouring in the hot jam, closing the jar with a thoroughly cleaned lid and turning it upside down. Fingers crossed that it worked.)

If processed correctly, the preserves should last a year.

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