'Please take some, the cows are sick of eating 'em,' the stall holder said to me with a laugh, as he offered a kilogram of strawberries for just $5.00. 'Are you sure? I'm happy to pay full price,' I insisted, knowing that the good man had travelled some distance to sell his produce. He waved me away and handed over my prize, saying 'I'm sure, because you'll taste 'em, know how good they are and come back for more next week!'. With such a bargain and his genuine smile, how could I resist?!
Peter has been away with work, and I've been off colour over the last several days, so there hasn't been much cooking taking place in my kitchen. Given that the strawberries from the farmer's market were quite ripe, I combined them with a punnet of almost ripe fruit picked from my own patch, and took the opportunity to engage in some therapeutic Sunday afternoon preserving.
The Country Women's Association (CWA) cookbooks are always a good guide when it comes to quantities of fruit to sugar when preserving. But I do tend to add less sugar than stipulated, simply because I prefer my jam to be not overly sweet.
My twitter friend, citrus grower and fellow cooking enthusiast, Len Mancini, @REDBELLY_ORANGE, says that his strawberry jam is either too runny (he then calls it a sauce) or sets too hard. 'It rarely hits that middle sweet spot, Lizzy,' he explained. Like Len, I always try to have some pectin at hand in case the fruit is too ripe and, therefore, the jam won't set. I also like Len's idea of adding runny jam to natural yohgurt to sweeten and flavour it.
'There are two kinds of jam,' according to English writer Nigel Slater, in Ripe: a cook in the orchard. '[There's] the sort you use to preserve a glut of berries to last you through the grey days of winter and the sort for more immediate consumption.' Mr Slater loves 'pots and pots' of jam 'for breakfast toast and afternoon tea, ladled from jars using spoons with sticky handles, spread onto floury scones, and sandwiched between slices of homemade sponge cake, their surfaces sparkling with superfine sugar.' He writes so deliciously, don't you agree?! Slater also prefers jam that is high on fruit content and low on sugar (viz 750g strawberries to a mere 1/2 cup caster sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice), so he would most likely find my receipt 'tongue numbingly sweet' (as he describes it), although he might enjoy my addition of Grand Marnier? Next time I pick strawberries, I shall try his version.
STRAWBERRY JAM WITH A SPLASH OF GRAND MARNIER
1kg strawberries, washed and hulled+
Juice of two lemons**
4 tablespoons Grand Marnier
pectin, if you have it
First, sterilise some clean jars either by placing them onto a tray in the oven, heat the oven to 130 degrees C and leave them in the oven for half an hour. Or, by boiling them in water for about 15 minutes (make sure they are dry before you fill them).
Slice any larger strawberries in half. Heat the sugar either in a Pyrex jug or bowl in the oven or microwave. Place the strawberries into a deep stainless steel pot. Add the sugar to the strawberries, then add the Grand Marnier and stir with a metal spoon. Bring the mixture to the boil and cook for 10 minutes. Then, add the lemon juice and cook for a further 5-10 minutes. *Pour into sterilised jars and seal when cold. Makes about 8 cups.
+Strawberries that are under ripe are best in this recipe, as they contain more pectin, which means your jam is more likely to set.
* I don't have a jam funnel (note to self, MUST buy one!), so I carefully pour the hot jam into a large Pyrex jug and I use an old enamel cup to pour the jam into the jars. Click through the images below and you'll see. Snap! Now have a jam funnel!
** As I didn't have any pectin handy, I threw the two squeezed lemon halves into the pot to cook with the jam.
The process in pictures...
I've met some people lately who say they really hate cooking. Do you love it or loathe it? And do you find cooking to be therapeutic? And what about those strawberry eating cows!?
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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- Liz Posmyk
NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.