This week, I was working on a story for a Web site about how to eat supper for under a buck per serving when I got some simple advice from Julie Parrish, co-founder of the sites HotCouponWorld.com and OrganicGroceryDeals.com. Even if you never clip a coupon, supermarkets are rich with unadvertised, last-minute bargains that you should snap when you find them. Get the stuff home, she said, and figure out what to do with it later.
If you spot a great deal at the supermarket, buy it and decide what to do with it later.
You would think someone whose blog is named “Eat Cheap” would do that anyway, but there you have it. As this recession deepens, I’m still learning what it really means to shop and eat frugally. I’m old enough to remember the recession of the 1970s, but I was a just a kid then and mostly recall our family’s belt-tightening involved my mother buying store-brand plastic wrap. She probably did much more than that, but I was unobservant in these matters.
So after talking to Julie, I visited the supermarket with new eyes and spied all kinds of goodies on the cheap–two pounds of Tillamook butter for $7 (a great deal and we’ll use it up long before its May expiration date), a couple of lamb sirloin steaks for 5 bucks. But the best buy, by far, was two pounds of fresh strawberries for $3.
I took one look and thought, “Jam.”
You see, my mate is British, and jam is a staple of his diet (along with PG Tips tea, bread, and butter–hence, why we’ll plow through the bargain Tillamook in no time). He probably goes through jar of jam every week or so. And he likes the good stuff–Bonne Maman and the like. No Smuckers preserves for him. He recently weaned himself from a minor addiction to a very fancy-schmancy (i.e., expensive) Italian jam, so the Bonne Maman is a step down for him.
Still, as I pondered the piles of sale strawberries, I recalled that jam is dead simple to make. Basically, just combine fruit and sugar and simmer the hell out of it until it’s a sweet, fruity mush. And that’s what I did last night, stopping to stir the goo between sips of cheapo Sangiovese and catching up on “Nip/Tuck” on Hulu (Lesbian Liz has finally left Christian the Cad–really, it was doomed from the start).
“It’s Ali’s Artisanal Jam,” my mate declared as he slathered it on toast this morning. So that’s it, I’m not just thrifty, I’m an artisan. And you can be one, too, with this recipe.
You-Can-be-an-Artisanal-Producer Strawberry Jam
I used a bit more sugar than usual because the strawberries aren’t quite in season yet, and not as juicy and sweet as they will be in a few months. Taste your berries first and adjust the amount of sugar accordingly–if they’re sweet and juicy, you’ll need less. Also play around around with the flavorings you add at the end. A couple teaspoons of lemon juice can stand in for the Cointreau and vanilla. This is a refrigerator jam, so plan to use it within 5 days. Not a problem in our household.
1 1/2 pounds fresh strawberries, hulled and coarsely
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon Cointreau
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Combine the strawberries and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat; bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until thickened, stirring every so often. Remove from heat; stir in the Cointreau and vanilla. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate (jam will continue to thicken as it cools). Yield: about 2 cups.