I like to wait until the strawbs are cheap at the end of the season, and then I pounce.
There was a deal on at the grocers and I bought a few punnets, with the intention of making jam. Jam making is incredibly easy, you need no special equipment (though if you’re keen and a regular preserver, a few time saving gadgets are useful) and it tastes way better than shop bought.
For strawberry jam you will need:
- Sugar (3/4 of the weight of the fruit)
- Lemon juice
- Jam jars – approx 4x 450g for 1kg of fruit
First off, put 3 or 4 small plates into the freezer; you’ll need these nice and cold later on. Probably wouldn’t use the Wedgwood for this.
Hull (take out the green bit) the strawberries, give them a wipe with a cloth if they look especially grubby – I don’t usually bother – and weigh them. Then you can work out how much sugar you’ll need.
I had 1kg of strawbs, so I used 750g of sugar and the juice of 1 lemon. Place them into a preserving pan* or a large saucepan.
If you like lumps of fruit in your jam, put the sugar onto the fruit, and leave it for several hours to draw out some of the juice from the berries. I prefer a smoother jam, so I cut up the fruit, and give it a bit of welly with a potato masher. Then I add the sugar. Personal preference; makes no difference to the taste or cooking time**.
Next, bring to the boil, stirring all the time. This dissolves the sugar fully; keep going until you can’t see any crystals of sugar in the fruit mix. The idea is to reduce the likelihood of the jam crystallising later on:
No sugar crystals on spoon
Once the sugar crystals have disappeared, add the lemon juice. It’s purpose is to help free up the pectin in the cells of the fruit. Pectin makes things set. Pectin is your friend. Bring the jam to the boil and let it bubble away for about 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, take a plate from the freezer, and dollop some jam on it.
Thicker consistency of the drops of jam
Wait for the jam to cool a bit and give it a poke with a spoon or your finger. You’re looking for a sort of wrinkly effect on the surface of the jam, which indicates that it is at setting point. (you could use a jam thermometer but honestly, I never have and you don’t need one.)
Wrinkly jam skin
If it’s not wrinkly, and you can’t see a permanent line through the jam where you’ve poked it, give it another 2 or 3 minutes on the boil and try again with a fresh plate from the freezer (see why you needed 3 or 4?). Repeat until wrinkly. The jam, not you. Obviously as a reward between each test, lick the plate. It’s yummy.
Meanwhile, prepare your jars. I always have a box of empty jars kicking about, or else you can buy fancy ones if you want. Wash them in hot soapy water, rinse and pop in a preheated oven at 220ºC for 5 mins. This sterilises them. When removing them, try not to stick your tea towel inside (or perish the thought, your fingers). Do not be tempted to skip this part, it’s probably the most important. For the lids, again wash in hot soapy water, rinse and place outer side down in the sink. Pour a whole kettle of freshly boiled water over them.
Ideally, try to time the jars and lids to be finished as the jam is finishing. Don’t worry if you can’t; you can reheat the jam quickly if you have to.
Spoon jam into hot jars***. If you plan to do this more than once, it’s worth investing in a jam funnel for this bit. Saves lots of swearing and cleaning of dribbled jam.
Jam Funnels are handy things, but not essential
Best to leave the jars for a couple of minutes after they come out of the oven before filling, to minimise the risk of any cracking. If jar and jam are much the same temperature, you’ll be fine. Shake the lid of the jar free of excess water and screw onto the jar immediately – do not wait or you won’t get a nice vacuum seal. Hold the jar with a tea towel or you will get cross, believe me. Label once cold.
Now for my favourite bit. Call in the rest of the family, hand them a slice of bread each and induce a sugar related coma by wiping round the pan, spoon and funnel and scoffing noisily. Brilliant.
* A note about preserving pans. This is one of those things which is useful if you do lots of jam or chutney making, but isn’t essential. Basically, when you boil sugar it expands a lot. At least doubling the volume. Using a big pan reduces the risk of whatever you’re cooking boiling over, producing a sticky, horrid mess on your cook top and wasting all your effort. Preserving pans are usually wider at the top than the base; I think this to encourage rapid evaporation of the water content of whatever you’re cooking. I actually use a large stockpot with straight sides and a double thickness base. I haven’t had any problems with this.
**Weeeell OK; it probably does affect the setting time a teeny bit. But really, not by much.
***There will be a bit of scummy stuff on the surface of the jam in the pan. This is fine. I’m told stirring in a knob of butter makes it dissipate, but this is purely cosmetic.