I don't have a happy history with strawberry jam. Three years ago, when Angus was around six weeks old and Bella two and a half, I went strawberry picking with a friend, and came back with a huge amount of fruit. That same afternoon, I carefully washed and hulled all the fruit and put it in the fridge. Where I promptly forgot all about it. One week later, I pulled the dried up, sorry looking strawberries from the fridge and attempted to coax them into jam by adding a little water with the sugar. Total disaster. And in my hormonal, sleep deprived, leaky boobed state it seemed even worse than it was. I was a failure. I couldn't even make jam. The moral of that story is don't try to set ridiculous standards of domestic goddess-ness when you have a toddler and a hungry new born baby. Or at any point in life, for that matter.
The following year I tried again and could not get it to set. I boiled it for hours until it evaporated down to one little jar of very expensive jam. Now I have learnt and I happily pass on my wisdom. Use pectin, or jam sugar, and all will be well. Now I actually like making jam.
All that fruit picking at the weekend prompted a happy few jam making sessions, with the tennis on the radio in the background. I love making jam because it lasts. When you cook a meal it is eaten, then the dishes are washed and put away, then got out again so that you can cook and eat another meal. Hours of preparation gone in minutes. Sometimes the repetition of those domestic chores (shop, cook, load dishwasher, unload dishwasher, shop, cook etc...) really grinds me down. But with jam, I make a big batch and pour the beautiful coloured sticky liquid into jars, then label them and put them on a shelf and admire them. Fabric pot covers are cut out and they are given as gifts. You get a bit more love back from a jar of jam.
I made two types - strawberry, and strawberry with rhubarb. The second was my friend Debora's suggestion and I don't know why this combination never occurred to me, it is so divine. The sweet and sharp flavours work so well together. The rhubarb gives it a real kick. The amount of fruit I used is just based on what I had to hand at the time. I find if I attempt more than 1.5 kg (approx 3 lbs) of fruit in one batch my jam looks scarily like it might boil over the pan and go everywhere. I use a 50/50 fruit to sugar ratio. Strawberries are naturally low in pectin so I always use jam sugar, which is just sugar with added pectin. The lemon also contains pectin which will help it set. I you're using a fruit that is naturally high in pectin like plums, damsons or apples, then you should just be able to use regular sugar.
1 kg (2 lbs 4 oz) fresh strawberries
1 kg (2 lbs 4 oz) jam sugar
Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam
650 g (1 lb 6 oz) strawberries
650 g (1 lb 6 oz) rhubarb
1.3 kg ( 2 lbs 14 oz) jam sugar
- Sterilise your jars*. You will need roughly one jam jar per 250 g (9 oz) of fruit, although this depends of the size of your jars.
- Wash and hull the strawberries and chop the large ones into smaller chunks. Wash the rhubarb (if using) and cut into 2 cm or 1 inch chunks.
- Put the fruit and sugar into a large jam pan or stock pot and slowly bring it up to the boil. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fruit. I mash the strawberries with a potato masher or wooden spoon at this stage to crush them down a bit.
- Put a saucer in the freezer.
- Boil for ten minutes then start checking to see if the setting point is reached. To do this, take your saucer from the freezer and put a little jam on it. (The cold dish simply helps the jam set more quickly). When it is set, gently push your finger across it and if it wrinkles, it is ready. If it doesn't wrinkle, put the saucer back in the freezer and check every five minutes. If it really doesn't want to set, add a sachet of pectin to help it along. If you let it boil for too long it just evaporates, which is quite depressing after all that effort.
- When it's ready, line up your jars ready to go.
- Using a jam funnel (what a revelation that was!) ladle the jam into the jars, seal, and leave to cool.
- Have lots of fun with labels and ribbons and other frippery.
Happy jamming people! Anyone have any other variations on or fruit combinations for strawberry jam? I would love to hear them. I wonder if strawberry and vanilla would work or if it would be too sweet?
*There are a few ways to sterilse your jars and lids. You can wash them really well with hot soapy water, rinse, then put them in the oven to dry (no higher than 180 c or 350 f). Or, after washing, fill each jar with boiling water from the kettle. Then when you're ready to pour the jam in, carefully tip out the water and fill with the jam. Or, put them through the dishwasher, taking care not to touch the insides of the jars as you remove them. You may need to use tongs or oven gloves to handle the hot jars. Always put hot food into hot jars, or cold into cold, or the glass may crack.