Strawberries are hilariously cheap in Melbourne at the moment, and the scent of them seems to follow me around whenever I visit the greengrocers or the market so I’ve been buying them by the punnet-load for jam-making.
My Mum’s an amazing preserves-maker. My whole life she’s been making plum jelly, marmalade, preserved peaches, bottled apricots and brandy cherries. Me? I make strawberry jam.
For years now I’ve been using the same incredibly basic recipe – Strawberries, lemon juice, sugar – but this year I thought I’d try something a little different, and see if I could develop a recipe a little more complex in flavours.
This was the result and I’m happy to report that it’s the best jam I’ve made yet.
1.25kg sugar / 1.5kg strawberries / juice of one lemon / vanilla bean / balsamic vinegar
1. Preheat the oven to 140 degrees celsius (275 fahrenheit) then put the sugar into a big heatproof pot and warm in the oven for 10 minutes or so. Pop a little saucer into the freezer at the same time.
2. Remove the crowns from the strawberries and chop them into bits. The bigger the bits, the chunkier the jam.
3. Add the strawberries to the warm sugar and put it on the stove on a low heat. Squeeze in the lemon juice, and half a cup of water and stir through. If you like you can cut a strip of the peel off the lemon and add it too – it’ll help the jam set.
4. Now cut the vanilla pod in half, and slice it open. Add it to the pot.
5. Keep stirring, and when the sugar’s all dissolved into the juices add a good slosh of balsamic vinegar. Honestly, how much you add is up to personal preference. I added maybe three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to the mix, but start small and taste as you go – you don’t want your jam to end up tasting like salad dressing!
6. Crank the heat up a little and get the pot bubbling away. Keep an eye on it, giving it a stir from time to time to make sure it doesn’t catch or boil over. Occasionally you might like to skim off the foam that rises to the top with a big metal spoon.
7. While the jam’s cooking you can prep your jars – give them a really good scrub, then rinse them clean and pop them in the (hopefully) still warm oven. You don’t want to pour molten jam into cold glass because you run the risk of shattering the jars – that’s why you should warm them up first!
8. How long the jam takes to set will be dependent on how much natural pectin there is in the fruit. I usually find that mine takes anywhere from half an hour to an hour. At about about 30 minutes mark start testing by dropping a spoonful of jam onto the cold saucer in the freezer and shutting the door. After 60 seconds to cool it should reach the consistency of jam (i.e. if you draw your finger through the puddle the two divided sides should stay separate). Once you’ve hit that point take the jam off the stove, and fish out the vanilla bean and the lemon rind (if you used it.
9. Give the jam fifteen minutes to settle, then start pouring it into jars and sealing them. They’ll keep for up to twelve months unless you’ve got a lot of friends, family, and in-laws you can share with!
Personally I like my strawberry jam on fresh, home-made crumpets. YUM!