Perfecting new preserves


Spring is here and we’re not far from the first fruits of the season in Wisconsin, so we’ve been hard at work in the kitchen perfecting new flavors. As we go, we’ll be posting about our experiments with lots of photos and videos.

Today, I, Matt, want to give you a sense of the actual work of that goes into developing and refining a new preserve.

The first step, of course, is to come up with a good idea. I’ve been playing around with concepts for a strawberry jam for awhile, and was leaning in the direction of adding herbal background notes to complement the woodiness you get in a wild strawberry. So, I sat down and thought through all the flavors in strawberries that I like and what I wanted to play off of.


Strawberry Notes

After a lot of brainstorming and research, I eventually narrowed my list of ingredients down to five or six spices and herbs which I wanted to concentrate on, which meant it was time to start experimenting. I wrote out a game plan for different things I wanted to try, involving varying ratios of ingredients and methods of preparation. Here’s a peek at some of my notes:

Once I have a plan established, I move to the kitchen. We keep it clean and organized, and have everything I need, from tools to ingredients to jars, readily available.

The strawberry preserve has been a challenge because I needed to find a way to bring out the herb and spice flavors without overpowering the berries. I settled, after a few tests, on simmering the herbs in water, making a kind of tea, and then straining them out. 

Then, after straining, I add the berries.

I bring the whole thing to a boil, stir, add a few more accent ingredients and, when they’re done, put preserves in a jar to cool. Then, I repeat the process with all of the other test batches I have planned for the day.

Eventually, we get a whole range of test jars, each slightly different from the others. Here’s the collection of strawberry tests:

I allow the jars to cool overnight and the next morning come in and do a thorough tasting of each preserve. I look at everything: the texture, the flavors, the sugar level, the tartness, the color, the smell, how it looks in the jar, etc. Most preserves don’t make the cut, but do give valuable insight into what needs to be tweaked and adjusted for the next round of test batches. All in all, I will usually do between 25 and 30 test batches before I get a preserve just right.

We’re still experimenting with the strawberry, so we have no idea what the final version will look like! But, we’ll know when we taste it. We always know when we’ve found the right recipe.