Now that local and delicious varieties of strawberries are available in the fruit markets, it is time to make that first batch of jam! I was feeling uncharacteristically nervous and anxious yesterday and so I pulled out my jam wares and started making a very quick but very satisfying version of my annual strawberry jam. Within half-hour I had 8 lovely jars full, I was feeling more contented and the house smelt like a ladies tea-room! Phew!
Jam is the simplest thing: take two ingredients (sugar and fruit) and boil it until set! But the essential is to have the right pots and bits. You absolutely need one large stainless steel jam pan, a jam thermometer, a long ladle for pouring the jam in the jars, a steel funnel with a large opening and of course some clean jars with lids.
1 kilo of strawberries
1 kilo of crystallised sugar
Juice of one lemon (plus zest)
Do not wash the fruit if you can help it! Just take the stalks off with a sharp knife and put them in the pot with the sugar and lemon. I added nice stringy zest to enhance the lemony note and look more interesting in the jar. You can experiment with vanilla pods or pink peppercorns or chopped fresh mint – all delicious and adding a pretty variation to the classic strawberry jam. Add them just before the end. Leave the fruit whole: mine looked like beautiful scarlet jewels in a thick syrup. If the strawberries let too much juice out, just cook it longer. You want runny and not overcooked, over-set jam.
Bring to a boil, dip you thermometer in and when the temperature has gone up to “jam point” (105° C.), turn the heat down and let it simmer 20 min while you sterilise your pots in the dishwasher or in a simple steamer for 10 min. The thermometer is essential because without it jam making is a bit of a frustrating hit and miss business. Test that the jam is set by dropping a few droplets onto a cold saucer: it should be runny and slightly gloopy and should wrinkle when you run your finger through it for the ultimate test – taste is simply magic!
Now use your long ladle to scoop out the boiling jam straight into each clean jar. Be careful not to burn yourself and have plenty of kitchen towels around to hold the jar! Using a jam funnel like the one in the picture makes it easier. Screw the top on the jar and turn it upside down. This way the boiling liquid sterilises the air left in the jar by letting it pass through and no further sterilising is required.
Then comes the hardest bit: you should leave it about 3 months before opening them so the flavours have time to mingle and blossom… A bit like laying down a good vintage. In any case, the jars unopened can last a few years easily and make lovely presents to friends. I DO LOVE being given homemade treats! And I love giving them away… Sounds corny but giving food as present is a lot like giving a bit of TLC and affection.