By Angela Denstad Stigeler
I always enjoyed strawberry time when I was a child. In fact, kneeling in a straw-strewn berry patch feasting on sun-warmed berries may be the perfect early summer idyll. But none of my remembered joy could surpass the exhilaration my son displayed on his first trip to the berry patch. Barely a toddler then, he turns six this week and his love of fresh berries has never waned.
Since it can seem an awfully long wait for those berries to grow, I decided to put together a foretaste of the coming bounty by making good use of the bit of remaining jam and fruit we had put up last year. Known as pâte de fruit, this wonderful little treat is a concentrated fruit jelly candy that seems to distill the whole essence of a strawberry field into each little square. You can almost taste the sunshine.
An ideal birthday treat for my berry-loving boy, this batch may also double as a make-ahead Mother’s Day delight. I could see myself giving and receiving some specially shaped and sugar-coated pieces of this pâte de fruit in some hand-decorated boxes next week. A mother’s idyll—to have a portion of what she’s given be joyfully returned.
24 ounces fresh or thawed frozen strawberries (4 cups)
1 ¼ cups strawberry jam
1 cup sugar, plus more for coating
3 envelopes unflavored powdered gelatin (2 tablespoons)
¾ cup cold water
Lightly oil an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Line the dish with a piece of wax paper that extends 4 inches beyond the rim.
In a food processor, puree the berries with the jam and 1 cup of sugar. Strain the puree into a medium saucepan. Boil the puree over moderately high heat, stirring often, until reduced to 3 cups, about 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin over the water in an even layer. Let stand until the gelatin softens, then heat the mixture over low heat until the gelatin dissolves completely. Stir the melted gelatin into the berry puree, then pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Let cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Just before serving, unmold the pâte de fruit onto a work surface. Peel off and discard the wax paper. Using a sharp knife, cut the pâte into 1-inch squares or triangles. Spread about 1/2 cup of sugar in a shallow bowl. Roll the pieces in the sugar to coat. Arrange on a platter and serve. The pâte de fruit can be prepared and refrigerated, covered, for up to 1 week.