Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Jam today

It's the very start of the strawberry season here in Yorkshire. Over the next 3 weeks there will be enough strawberries to satisfy even Miss B, our resident fraisivore. Most of the strawberries aren't quite ripe yet but those that are, are perfect for jam making.

The strawberries from my garden, Strawbopolis, are for snacking purposes only. To be brutally honest, I forgot to water my strawberry plants last year the second the fruiting season ended (I'm a bad, bad plantswoman) and lots of them died. Those that did survive look ace and are producing lots of fruit, which is more than I deserve. Oops.

To pick my strawberries, I went to Kemp's of Horsforth. My friend Jean knew the elder Kemp back in his rugby club days and says he was a dashing blade. Jean's 86, so I guess the Kemp family's farm has been a fixture of North Leeds for a long while. I like getting produce direct from the grower, and even more when it's a local family business. It's much nicer than handing the cash to a supermarket. In addition, PYO means I can be as picky as I like about the fruit; and I am very picky.

Today's haul was a bit disappointing. I was clearly rather too keen and should have left it a week because so few berries were ripe that it took me best part of an hour to pick my 3 kilos. Still, the flavour was good and it's a nice way to while away a morning.
A few ripe strawberries for snacking

Back home, I put on Lily Allen's album Sheezus and set to work hulling the strawberries. My Very Excellent Mate Rachel gave me three Lily Allen albums recently and I love them. When it's a bit of a dead time for radio they are my songs of choice. Rachel also has Cary Elwes's memoir As You Wish for me, which I am very excited about.  Hurray for VEM Rach and her thoughtfulness.

When it comes to jam making  I refer to the mighty Pam The Jam, author of the River Cottage Handbook on Preserves. Pam Corbin's recipes are clear, well explained and almost always work well for me, although I prefer slightly less sugar when I can get away with it. Between cordials, jams, jellies, curds and marmalade I have used her book until it is stiff with sugar spatter and stained with fruit juice. I raise my elderflower martini to her.

Here's my version of what Pam recommends -

Strawberry Jam

2.85kg of hulled strawberries, with any bruises trimmed (3.2kg picked weight)
600g granulated sugar
1.75kg jam sugar
5 large lemons

10-12 clean jam jars with lids

If at all possible, don't wash the strawberries. Wipe any grubby bits off but generally just leave them. Dry strawberries make better jam.
Put the clean jam jars and lids on a lined baking tray and put in the oven. Turn the oven on to 150 degrees and leave the jars in to sterilise.
Stick all the strawberries in a maslin pan or VERY large stock pot. Add the granulated sugar and simmer on a low heat for about 5 minutes until mostly soft.
At this point I let the mix cool before pushing 2/3 of the fruit through a metal sieve with a messy combination of a silicon spatula and my fists. Then I plunge my hands into the jam pan and squish up any lumps of fruit until I have a mostly smooth and partially seed-free mixture.  Pam Corbin doesn't have this step in her recipe because Pam isn't trying to feed fussy family members who don't like pips or fruit pieces in their jam. Lucky, lucky Pam.

NB - By now I look like I've been involved in a massacre. I usually have to swap to a fresh apron at this point or everywhere I lean I make strawberry prints.

Put the jam mixture back on a low heat and add all the jam sugar. This contains the pectin we'll need for the jam to set. I use more jam sugar and less granulated sugar than Pam because overall my sugar-to-fruit ratio is lower - I like a touch of tartness because it tastes more of strawberry that way - so I need the extra pectin to get a good set.
Heat the jam through gently, stirring all the time to ensure the sugar doesn't burn to the bottom of the pan. When it has dissolved completely add the juice of all 5 lemons and turn the heat up. That acidity really lifts the flavour of the strawberries.
Incidentally, cold lemons don't produce as much juice. If your lemons were in the fridge, it's worth popping them in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds before you squeeze them.

Once your jam is boiling away, Pam says it will take 8-9 minutes to reach setting point. Personally, I find it takes closer to 15, but I'm probably doing something wrong.

If you have lots of frothy scum on the top of the jam, pop in a blob of butter and stir the jam until it dissipates. Then it's time to fill the jars, which have been sitting in the oven all sterile and ready to go.
I find it easiest to fill them on the baking tray. It contains any spillage and is easy to clear up.  Put a wide mouthed funnel onto a jar and pour in the jam until full. If you haven't got a jam funnel I find tipping your jam into a glass or earthenware jug with a spout will do as a way to fill the jars with minimum spillage.
Be careful, please. The jam is insanely hot, you do not want any of it splashing on you if you can help it. I got 3 tiny little dots of jam on my knuckles as I was holding the thermometer and they came up as blisters almost immediately.
Put the lids on the filled jars immediately (I use oven gloves or a tea towel) and leave to cool.

I absolutely LOVE the metallic pop the lids make as the jar cools and creates a vacuum.  I find something I "need" to do to make sure I'm in the kitchen for that. It's very satisfying.

Ten jars, two small dishes and a bit for tasting
A note about setting point - You can faff about with drops of jam in cold water or creases on cold saucers but I find my sugar thermometer far more reliable. You can get them from places like Nisbets, and they're well worth having.

Those two little dishes of jam are for my lovely neighbour Wendy, and Jean who knew the Kemps 'way back when.  Sharing a bit of jam will do when the red wine runs out.
All hail kick-ass octogenarian women!

J x

1 comment:

  1. I so miss our local Sussex PYO. Here strawberries are so precious we eat them all and none make it to jam.