Friday, 5 November 2010

Strawberry Jam

 Well, it would seem that Autumn is well and truly upon us now!  Although, it has been unseasonably warm for the past few days down here, the leaves on the trees have more or less all turned now.  I really like Autumn, I love the colours of the  leaves on the trees, I love wading through the piles of fallen leaves and I would go as far as to say that I love the crisp, fresh Autumn mornings when there's a hint of frost.  We haven't had too many of those yet, though.  Anyway, I've had a bit of a break from blogging, which has prompted some complaints from some of my friends, but you know what?  When something is a hobby, I think it's really important that you can put it down and walk away from it for a while, without feeling guilty.  If you can't, then that activity ceases to be an enjoyable hobby and becomes a chore.  Well, that's my opinion anyway!

 Strawberry jam isn't perhaps the most autumnal subject really, but I was really surprised to notice in my local the other day that they are still selling British strawberries!  Amazing.  And, right now, they were on a buy one get one free offer, so I thought, why not?  I bought a couple of kilograms, thinking I could eat some and make jam from the rest.  Strawberry jam is super easy - you need one kilogram of fruit, to one kilogram of sugar.  A bit of fresh lemon juice helps to freshen everything else and I believe helps it to set.  That's it!  I must admit that, for the first time ever when I make jam, I used a specific jam sugar this time.  Jam sugar has added pectin, the agent that exists naturally in fruit and which makes jam set.  So, it shouldn't be possible to create jam that doesn't set when using this type of sugar.

So, to make jam.  First weigh out 1 kilogram of strawberries.
 Then, wash them and remove the green stalks and leaves.  Add them to a decent sized, heavy base saucepan and heat gently until they go all soft.  Don't worry about it being dry, the amount of liquid that comes out as you do this is amazing and very soon will be higher than the level of the strawberries originally!  Once they are all soft and mushy, this will probably take about 10 minutes or so, with occasional stirring, add 1 kilogram of sugar.  I prefer to add it a bit at a time and to stir the mixture around until it is all dissolved before adding more, but I guess you could put it all in at once.  It's probably easier to stir if you add a bit at a time.  Anyway, once the sugar is added, stir it around and let it simmer gently.  As it is doing so, you will notice a foam forming on the top.  This should be carefully removed with a spoon, taking care not to remove too much of the jam as well!  It will seem like this is an unwinable battle because more foam will form as you remove it, but keep going.  The foam is formed by water coming out of the strawberries and if you leave too much of this in, the jam won't keep for as long.  Simmer (and keep removing foam) for about 10 minutes or so.  After 10 minutes, remove a small amount of jam with a tea spoon and pour it onto a cold plate.  Wait a minute or so and then gently push the blob of jam with your finger.  If the surface of the blob wrinkles up when you push it, the jam is ready.  If not, simmer for a bit longer and try again.

 It is important to sterilise the jars you are going to keep your jam in, which should be done with boiling water.  Be very careful not to scald yourself doing this!  Also, watch that you don't put too much boiling water into the jars all at once, or they might shatter.  Pour in a little at a time and swish it around to ensure the glass heats up evenly.  Once you've swished a good amount of boiling water around inside the jar, taking great care not to scald yourself, pour the water out and set the jar into a bowl, or the sink, filled with hot water.  Take care that there isn't so much water that the jars float!  This is to ensure that the glass stays hot so that when we pour in the jam, we don't risk it cracking.
 When the jam is ready, simply pour it very carefully into the jar, more or less up to the top and seal immediately.  As the jam cools, this will cause a vacuum to form around the top, which will help to preserve the jam.  It is better to use proper jam jars with rubber seals for this purpose.  Allow the jam to cool in the jars and then that's it.

 As an aside, you should now have a bowl of foam that you scrapped off the top of the jam as it was simmering, which should have set by now.  If you take off the thick, foam layer from the top, underneath should be a nice, clear, red liquid.  This is really just strawberry syrup and it's lovely with some natural yogurt, or even rice pudding.  I prefer not to waste anything if I can!