Enjoying and (Sort of) Preserving the First Strawberries

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By Edward Schneider 

Not only was a favorite grower/vendor – Maxwell’s Farm, from Warren County, New Jersey – back at our local farmers’ market for the first time since last year, but they had brought strawberries with them. So had another vendor, but Jackie and I could smell Maxwell’s berries from yards away. We bought two quarts. Were these May strawberries as good as the ones we’ll get a little later in the season? Of course not. But they gave us a little thrill. 

Rinsed, immediately drained, and hulled, they served two purposes: that day’s dessert (about a third of them, lightly sprinkled with sugar and eaten with cream) and future desserts, in the form of a quick, liquidy kind of jam that Jackie tells me Russians call varenye.  

This isn’t an all-singing, all-dancing, all-worrying production like regular preserves that are going to be kept for months. All you do is let the halved berries sit for a few hours tossed with half their weight in sugar and a spritz of lemon juice, then boil this mixture gently until you take it off the fire. Does that sound a little imprecise? Okay, the liquid should thicken very slightly and not run too, too freely when you drizzle a couple of drops on a plate and let it cool. Skim off most of the foam – but since this isn’t a long-keeping jam, that’s more a cosmetic issue. 

Put it in a jar or bowl (do keep it in the fridge) and serve it à la russe, as a side dish with tea, or on ice cream, or folded into crêpes, or in a glass of Champagne. Don’t make a lot of it: you need to eat it quickly and be ready for the next batch, which could, just could, be made from the season’s first sour cherries, which are just around the corner. 

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