The most fantastic strawberry preserves I’ve ever eaten were made by Mrs. W, my best friend’s mother. This was a long time ago. I was perhaps ten. Since then I’ve tasted other homemade strawberry preserves and countless brands of commercial ones. None of them matched Mrs. W’s with what I call that burst of early summer morning flavor – until yesterday.
The Hunter announced at breakfast that he was sick of currant jelly on his toast and so took himself down cellar to rummage among the preserves on the shelf. From our rather eclectic collection of Trappist Preserves (Burgundy wine, elderberry, boysenberry, quince, hot pepper, blueberry, rhubarb-strawberry, and of course, my favorite, currant) he came up with a jar of plain old strawberry.
For my part, I don’t see how anyone can ever be sick of currant jelly, but if one were, why would one choose strawberry – boring strawberry as a replacement? Everyone makes strawberry preserves, and no one does it particularly well. Instead of Mrs. W’s burst of summer, all you get is red sugar. And I didn’t think even The Trappists, bottling preserves in their monastery in Spencer, MA, would be any different.
Which just goes to show I shouldn’t be so know-it-all judgmental. In the interest of science and because it was open on the table, I, too, spread some Trappist strawberry preserves on my toast. One bite and I was ten years old again, sitting with my best friend in Mrs. W’s kitchen, sharing some bread and jam. Wow!
Every June Mrs. W., her girls and sometimes me if I were very lucky, would go strawberry picking. The day would start quite early, before the dew was completely dry and the sun had baked the fields. And we would pick so many quarts that the whole car was filled with strawberries – the trunk, the back seat, the front seat. This meant no squirming on the ride home so as not to knock any over – not always easy when you are only ten.
A lot of the fruit went to the church strawberry supper (grilled chicken followed by strawberry shortcake made with fresh biscuits – Mrs. W. made the biscuits, too.) But the rest went into preserves. Exactly what the secret was to these incredibly jammy, bursting-with-flavor preserves, I don’t know. Perhaps it was because they were made within a day or two of picking the fruit. Perhaps it was the variety of the strawberries. Perhaps it was simply because Mrs. W had a magic touch. Who knows?
What I do know is that The Trappists at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer have it exactly right. Perhaps they have Mrs. W’s recipe. They certainly have her magic touch. Maybe it is as simple as “no artificial preservatives, flavoring or coloring.”
From now my refrigerator will always have a jar of their strawberry preserves right next to the jar of their the currant jelly. It isn’t everyday that you suddenly shed half a century of age, and I’m thinking I might like to do it again.
[P.S. I should note that The Trappist (Trappist is another name for the Cistercians of the Strict Observance, a Roman Catholic religious order) Monks did not pay me to write this, nor did they give me any jam to entice me to do so. In fact, they don’t even know I’m writing about their products. I just happen to think that, whether you want jams, jellies or preserves in ordinary flavors like strawberry or grape, or unusual ones like elderberry or fig or port wine, they make the best out there. If you want to try them, and your grocery doesn’t stock Trappist, or you don’t live close enough to their gift shop on their Abbey grounds in Spencer, MA to make a jam run, you can order them from Monastery Greetings.]