ground cherry jam
There’s something about ground cherries that makes my heart beat just a little bit faster. Now, I am saying that as if I do not actually know what it is that causes this to happen. Let me come clean right off the bat: I know exactly why this happens. The story goes like this:
It was a Montreal winter. I was living with 3 other girls in an old apartment above a restaurant that changed owners every few months. There were no buildings on either side and it was a classic “Insulation? Who needs insulation?!” situation. No matter how many layers of lipstick I applied, my lips still looked blue. It was my first fancy date with my new boyfriend from France who I assumed would bring me to a fabulous restaurant. (He did.) Being that I am a hopeless romantic, I was really hoping for some gesture from this mysterious introvert I was falling in love with. The entire time I got ready, I kept hoping for a pre-date call or text (such are the romantic ambitions of my generation) to kick off a wonderful and defining evening. (NO PRESSURE, right? Poor guy.) At any rate, that pre-date gesture never came, and as I am a classic over-thinker with a flair for the dramatic, I took it to mean he wasn’t as enamored with me as I was with him.
When the bell rang, one of my roommates assured me I looked great and I ran down to let him in. He was completely soaked, with a giant grin on his face. This is my husband (then boyfriend): external conditions that would make anyone grumpy, and he grins. How could I not marry that? The conversation that immediately followed me letting him in went something like this:
“Yeah, covered in water!”
“Ah, yes, well…I wait for a while.”
“Really? Didn’t we say 6:30?”
“Yes we say that, but…I come early so that I can leave you your surprise.”
His face falls into a rarely seen look of disappointment.
“You did not see on your balcony?”
Together we went to the balcony and there, propped up in a bucket of water, (doubtless aided by the torrential rain) were a bundle of gorgeous dusty pink roses.
“I thought you will see before I ringed.”
He had come early, in the rain, to leave flowers for me before our date. A dramatic and completely romantic gesture. And I would have seen that, had it not been for the fact that I was preoccupied with gussying up and purposefully staying away from the kitchen/balcony door which was gushing frigid air inside. Needless to say, the grin was already back, fixed firmly on his perfect face.
Off we rushed to the Portuguese restaurant Ferreira Café to enjoy my first filet mignon, a bottle of wine I could not pronounce, and crustacean that came with their heads. Seeing the look I was giving the plate, (something like the look I’d given the waitress when she asked if I preferred l’eau plate or l’eau petillante – Yes sir, this was my first time in a restaurant that had options for water!) Mathias assured me, “Just put your fork in the meat, don’t worry, you’ll see!” I was wary of this tactic. It may seem like a contradiction, but even being as I was, a farm-girl, I was just not OK with heads on plates. (I’ve grown out of that.) Sure enough, with a ginger poke of my fork, the head separated as if all it had been waiting for was for me to approach it. And with the first buttery bite, the condemning eyes of the prawn were the furthest thing from my mind.
And then, finally, the crème brûlée. Are you still with me? This is what we’ve been building towards. My first ever, and best ever crème brûlée. I had tried none prior, but many since. And the memory of it still blows my socks off. The custard was perfectly tiède (lukewarm) and the top was perfectly brûléed. My husband’s test of a good brûlée: the moment your spoon hits the sugar and cracks like thin ice on a homemade rink. This one passed, let me tell you. And the garnish? The most beautiful, delicate, ground cherry. I had never seen such an exotic looking dish, and all the while it was one of the most classic French desserts ever reproduced.
All this time, and when I stumble upon ground cherries, my heart carries me back to the night of pouring rain, surprising roses, a grin I hope to never live without, and a delectable, crème brûlée.
And with that, I give you a recipe about as far from a precise French custard as it gets: A rustic, fool-proof, ground cherry jam.
So simple. Bring your orange juice, sugar and honey to a boil and add your ground cherries. Lower the heat and cook for a good while, until your cherries are bursting and the liquid gets sticky.
If you find there is too much liquid for your liking, simply fish some out of there and refrigerate to use for another preparation. (I’m sure we can come up with a cocktail for that stuff!) Another idea is to freeze the liquid in an ice cube tray to punch up the flavor in an otherwise regular glass of juice.
Add your orange zest and sea salt. Don’t forget to taste all along the way to be sure it’s to your liking. Jam is the kind of thing that is easy to readjust. Yay for that!
You can either jar it as is, or you can mash them up. I finished off my jar of honey in this recipe so I just cleaned it out and spooned the jam right in!
It makes you feel all earthy and recycle-y!
Making memories with the people you love. Isn’t that the ground cherry on top?