Strawberries, Ripe Strawberries!
At last - the strawberries have come in and very lush they look too. I thought it might be helpful to give you a few pointers about making strawberry jam based on my experience.
When I was young - several hundred years ago - there was this tradition of growing strawberries in a field, strangely utilising something called straw. Ahem. With the arrival of the various sporting occasions - Ascot, Wimbledon etc the very best of the first strawberries would be picked and dispatched to delight the great and the good at a premium price. The next pickings would be sent to Covent Garden overnight by rail to be distributed around the country for all to enjoy. The strawberry season was very short - and very special. A lot rode on the success of the crop and much could take place to damage it, not least of which was the weather.
The final picking and clearing of the field ready to be prepared for next year - was for Jam Strawberries. This was all the small, perhaps misshapen, still under ripe also-rans, sold at an attractive price, which made delicious jam. The perfect economical use of the whole harvest gave the maximum return for the grower. The country was dotted with hundreds of small market gardens and farms specialising in this niche crop. It was much the same for rhubarb, but I digress.
Nowadays we have all-year-round, grown in polytunnels, sourced around the world, perfect, large, luscious fruit which are splendid on pavlovas and for the terraces of Wimbledon and beyond, but which do not make great jam. I am not a scientist but I feel a fruit only has a certain amount of flavour in it's genetic make up and if you spread it into a bigger casing there is only so much to go round. Smaller taste better, in my book.We are also encouraged, quite rightly in some cases, to keep everything refrigerated, and serving at such temperatures kills the taste - tomatoes are another case in point.
For many people Strawberry Jam is the epitome of excellence for jam. I have to confess it isn't my favourite - I prefer raspberry and love blackcurrant and also apricot. Anyway, it's not all about me.
Start with good quality, just picked fruit - if possible. A few under ripe will help the set - fruit has the highest pectin levels just before it is ready to be picked. Hull the fruit ( remove the stems and leaves ) and only wash if they are muddy or they may be contaminated in some way ( a polite way of saying dogs might have peed on them ). I don't cut them up because strawberries break down on cooking anyway without assistance. It is nice to have whole fruit in the jam and on your toast. I would only cut them if they were enormous - but then, if they are that big I wouldn't be making jam with them anyway. Put them in a large pan with the lemon juice and put over a low heat to allow the fruit to soften without either breaking it down too much or burning.
When softened remove from the heat and add the sugar, stirring to dissolve as much as possible. Put back over the heat and keep stirring until all of the sugar is absorbed. Now, stop stirring and increase the heat until a rolling boil is achieved.
Check the time and maintain this boil for 4-5 minutes before testing for a set on a cold saucer. Put the saucer in the fridge for about 5 minutes. Stir once or twice during this time to make sure that the jam isn't sticking at all.
While you are waiting for the saucer test to be ready, take the pan from the heat and reduce the sugar foam by stirring the pan vigorously. Take the saucer from the fridge and push the jam from the side. If there is a good 'crinkle' then the jam is ready. If the jam isn't set then return it to the heat and boil for a few extra minutes before testing again. Once a set is obtained set the pan on one side and take your jars from the oven. After about 15 minutes jar up the jam as usual, filling each jar to the top before sealing immediately. Leaving the jam to stand for 15-20 minutes prevents the fruit from rising to the top of the jar.
Strawberry Jam is still the jam of choice for a cream tea, some toast, a sponge cake and much more besides - my advice? Make plenty!
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