Luscious Strawberry Jam
For to me, despite the many beautiful cakes in the world, there really is nothing quite like eating a warm scone with intensely crimson, homemade strawberry jam and a dollop of cream.
I know this recipe looks a bit long-winded but it’s because I’ve tried to explain it well …I promise you it’s not hard at all, and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen, nor tasted, anything quite like really good homemade strawberry jam – you just don’t get the vibrant colour and intense berry flavour in commercial jams.
Before you get started there are a couple of things I should mention. Firstly, it’s only worth making with really fresh, fragrant berries that aren’t battered and bruised, and secondly, short of adding a setting agent (like powdered pectin or using sugar with a setting agent in it), which I don’t like doing as it always alters the flavour, this jam won’t set firmly. If the berries are really fresh then you’ll get a pretty good gel, however more often than not it’s considerably more runny than its commercial cousins (but much more delicious too.) However, as it’s best stored in the fridge I find this helps thicken it a bit.
I’ve made this recipe for a 1kg of berries, but you can use 500g if you like…it will give you a couple of jars. (In fact, jam and marmalade in general are much better, clearer and more vibrant when they’re made in small batches as you don’t risk overcooking the fruit and losing its ‘fresh’ flavour. I think that’s the comment I most often hear, in fact, when people taste this – they can’t believe how ‘strawberry-ish’ it is.)
Makes 3 – 4 medium-sized jars
1kg fresh, fragrant strawberries, hulled and halved if large
1 kg white sugar
juice of 2 large lemons, strained (pips reserved)
After this, put the pan over medium/low heat to warm the mixture, stirring gently until the sugar has dissolved. Now, clip a sugar thermometer to the side of the pan, (this isn’t essential so don’t worry if you don’t have one, but if you do it can help.) Increase the heat to very high and let the jam boil rapidly, stirring it occasionally to make sure it isn’t catching on the bottom, for about 15 and 20 minutes until it has reached setting point. I’ll explain this in a moment, but before I do, it’s important to be mindful that when jam is close to setting point it bubbles up rather alarmingly in the pan, so you need to keep an eye on it and adjust the temperature so it doesn’t boil over (you may well need to do this a few times.)
Back to the setting point; there are a few ways to check this. First if you’re using a thermometer, check the temperature has reached 105C. The next thing to do is to dip a wooden spoon into the boiling jam, then lift it up high above the pan and let the jam on it drip back in. What you’re hoping to see is those last few drops looking quite thick and syrupy, and ideally, running together and joining up then falling as more of a ‘sheet’ than individual drops, (however long fine tails on them will do nicely!) You can also spoon a little jam onto an ice-cold saucer and put it in the freezer for a minute or so, then push your finger through it, if the surface wrinkles up a little, it’s ready. Keep testing the jam every minute of so, and as soon as it’s ready, take it off the heat and let it settle for a few minutes. Press the bag of pips hard against the side of the pan to squeeze out any jam, then discard it. Ladle the jam into hot, dry, sterilised glass jars, cover them with a sheet of baking paper to protect them, and leave them to cool completely. When they’re ready, remove the paper and seal the jars tightly. Label and date them, and store them in the fridge for up to 6 months.
This recipe begs the question of how to sterilise jars, but just before I go into that, it’s important to remember that the jars must be hot when you fill them with the hot jam, otherwise they may crack, so you need to get you’re your timing somewhat in sync with the jam when you sterilise them. There are a few ways to do this, but the two I mainly use are these.
# Wash the jars in warm soapy water, rinse them thoroughly then sit them and their lids (as long as the lids aren’t plastic or won’t melt) on an oven tray. Put the tray with the jars into a cold oven then turn the heat to 130C. Leave the jars for 30 minutes, then carefully take them out and cover them with a sheet of grease proof paper until you’re ready to use them. (Or you can just switch off the oven and leave them in to stay hot if the jam isn’t quite ready.)
# The other way, if you have a dishwasher, is to put the jars and their lids through the hottest cycle, and leave them in once the cycle has finished, so they stay hot until you fill them.