I learnt to make jam in my mother’s kitchen. We moved a lot, so there were a lot of kitchens over time, but she always used the local produce. I still cannot smell a peach without being transported back to her Italian kitchen.
My favourite jam is strawberry jam. I also think that it is the easiest, because it’s left to sit for 15 minutes before you pot it up, otherwise the berries rise to the top. None of this rushing around once setting point has been reached. Last night when I posted, I didn’t even think about including the recipe. Too busy guzzling the jam on bread. Its true.
How to make strawberry jam
Seeing as Fiona asked so rashly nicely, I’ll give you my never-gone-wrong-yet recipe (always like a caveat). So here it is. Nothing fancy. Straightforward and an excellent one to start with. Sue, please tell me at the end if it sounds easy.
Preparing the strawberries
1. Choose strawberries that are just on the point of ripe. They start losing the natural pectin after that, which you need to ensure that your jam is not destined to be runny.
2. Eat the very big ones. You can cut them up small and put them in, but I consider this a perk of jam making.
3. Remove the leaves. You can put the small strawberries in as they are, but do cut up the bigger ones.
4. Put 900g (2lbs) of strawberries into a preserve pan. Buy or borrow a flat bottomed jam preserving pan.
Making the jam
5. Add 1kg (2.2lbs) of sugar with pectin. That’s jam sugar. Strawberries are not high in pectin and they need it to set.
6. Add the juice of half a lemon. No need for water. There is enough in the strawberries.
7. Heat the pan on a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. You need to be stirring pretty much all the time to stop the sugar caramelizing or burning.
8. Increase the heat and bring to the boil. Boil the jam for about four minutes, when it should have reached setting point*. All jam makers have their favourite way of checking this. I use two methods. Either use a jam thermometer or by putting a drop on a cold saucer, let it cool for about a minute and then I push my finger through it. If the surface of the jam is wrinkled, the jam is ready. Otherwise, give it a bit longer.
Potting up the jam
9. Once setting point is reached, take it off the stove and let it cool. Carefully remove the scummy white stuff with a spoon. It doesn’t look pretty in the jar.
10. Leave the jam in the pan for 15 minutes. This is to stop the berries rising to the top when you pot it up.
11. Pot the jam in warm, sterilised jars and seal.
* At this point most recipe books tell you to take it off the heat while you test. To be honest, I leave it where it is, on the stove. I can hear a whole lot of dedicated jam makers tutting. What can I say. I am a jam rebel, in a small way. You can’t see it, but I am doing a well practised gallic shrug at this point.
If you find that the cold jam is runny in the jar, then the jam can be reboiled in the next few days. Otherwise, pop it in the fridge. Use the resulting strawberry syrup on bread, stir it in yogurt or mix it into ice cream, which is my personal favourite.
I do like making jam. I once made jam in our 1960s touring caravan, in the back garden. Bumper crop and our kitchen stove was out of action. The dogs didn’t know what to make of it, but the postman was amused. We went on holiday the next day. The van smelt beautiful all holiday.
Sue asked a couple of questions, so I’m going to add the answers here:
The recipe makes about 4 lbs of jam. You can double the quantities, but you may encounter problems if you increase by more, in a domestic setting.
To sterilise the jars, I wash them in hot water and washing up liquid. I put them in a baking tray, as it is easier to handle the tray when the jam pots are hot. Then I put them in a low temperature oven for at least 15 minutes, usually when the jam is sitting. I use an Aga so the jars go in the bottom oven, but with other ovens, 140°c seems to be a good temperature. Alternatively, I put the jars through the dishwasher, to get them clean and warmed ready for potting the jam.
Into the pots
Put the jam in while the jars are still hot, to reduce the chance of it shattering with the sudden change of temperature. I use a jam funnel and keep the jars on the baking tray. Easier to handle and easier to clear up. You’ll need a disk of greaseproof on top of the jam. You can buy sets of waxed circles, elastic bands and pot covers. I’ve found them in kitchen shops and Lakeland Plastics stock them as well. Jam making is obviously not common in this area as the supermarkets don’t stock these anymore. Jam makers are divided about using a lid or plastic film as the final layer. The glass lidded jars side step the issue.
Don’t forget to label, just in case you mange to keep any of the jars passed the first week. Personally, I live in hope!