- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Off you go to the farmers market. Baskets of plums, heaps of berries and piles of peaches want to come home with you. Succumbing to their siren allure, you buy way too much.

Sounds familiar, right?

After the shortcake, tarts and bowls of fluff-topped fruit, plan to make jams and preserves. However, instead of taking the easy way out with freezer jam or boxed pectin-type preserves, try your hand at making classic spreads using just the basics: fruit at the peak of flavor with its natural pectin and sugar.

Then bring on the baguette lavished with sweet butter, spread it with your fruit creation and dip it into a bowl of cafe au lait. Not a bad way to indulge.

For inspiration and instruction, consult “Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber,” by Christine Ferber, translated from French by Virginia R. Phillips (Michigan State University Press). This cookbook is a best seller in France. It includes 32 jewel-toned photographs and 218 exquisite recipes, organized by season.

There are classic jams such as wild strawberry, blueberry, blackberry and black cherry. Then there are racy Morello cherry and black cherry with kirsch, apricot with diced mango, raspberry and white peach, creme de cassis with pinot noir and clementine marmalade.

The recipes do not have headnotes and while the instructions are a tad brief, they are perfectly clear. Anyone who has ever stirred a pot of jam should be able to reproduce these gems.

Ms. Ferber is a chocolatier, ice cream maker, bread baker and fourth-generation pastry chef. She won the World Pastry Cup when she was a mere 20 years old.

Now she is considered the godmother of jams and jellies, but as a teenager, she had to go to Brussels for formal culinary instruction because in France, women were barred from those schools.

Afterward, she returned home to help her parents at the family store in the small village where she grew up in the Alsace region of France. Soon Ms. Ferber began making small-batch artisan jams from fresh local produce. It is her pairing of the fruits with various flavorings — rose petals, black pepper, vanilla, wine and herbs — that makes her jams unique. The demand for the 180 varieties she makes far exceeds the supply.

Virginia R. Phillips has managed to translate it with considerable clarity and graceful language, and reviewers are lavish in their praise.

A second Ferber book, “Mes Tartes,” will be available from Michigan State University Press in the fall.

Old bachelor’s jam

In Alsace, when people picked berries from their gardens or in the woods, they would set aside a few handfuls to toss into a crock, covering the fruit as they went along with sugar and splashes of the cherry brandy, kirsch. By fall, the compote would be fragrant and boozy. In nearby Germany, this combination is called rumtopf.

2 pounds blueberries

7 cups sugar, divided

Juice of 1 small lemon, divided

2 pounds raspberries

2 ounces kirsch

Quickly rinse blueberries in cold water without soaking them. In a preserving pan, combine blueberries, 33/4 cups sugar and the juice of half a lemon. Bring to a simmer. Pour this mixture into a ceramic bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Quickly rinse the raspberries the same way. In another preserving pan, bring raspberries to a simmer with remaining 33/4 cups sugar and remaining juice of half a lemon. Pour this mixture into a ceramic bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Next day, bring blueberries to a boil, stirring gently. Continue cooking over high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring often and skimming, if needed. Check the set. Put the jam into sterilized jars immediately, filling them just halfway. Let the jam jell.

For the final step, bring the raspberry mixture to a boil, stirring gently and skimming carefully. Continue cooking on high heat for about 5 minutes. Check the set. Turn off heat, add the kirsch and finish filling the jars. Add one or two drops of kirsch to each jar and seal. Makes about 8 8-ounce jars.

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