Wednesday, July 04, 2007


In between the thunder and the lightning and the torrential downpours I made my way to the Pick Your Own farm to get fruit for jam. Tom Phippen’s wife Jean stopped her little tractor between the rows of blackcurrants for a chat. We have had the wettest June practically since records began and it has been cold too, so the crops are all a couple of weeks late. But worse is the fact that people don’t come out of their cosy houses in this sort of weather. If nobody picks the fruit it will be destroyed, and if that happens the farm will not survive. Chosen Hill Farm is the only Pick Your Own around here, and they don’t sell to retailers, it’s just for folk like me who come and get their own. It would be a tragedy if we lost it.

I was getting fruit for jam, strawberries and blackcurrants. I don’t know why I make strawberry jam – I don’t really like it, I find it very sweet. I think it’s the challenge, because it isn’t that easy to make. If it sets, which doesn’t always happen, it can set like toffee, and then it sits like rubber on your bread. But it’s quite quick to make, because it doesn’t involve a great deal of liquid and boiling. This is my recipe.

1 kg hulled strawberries
Zest and juice of l large unwaxed lemon
1 kg sugar

Try to get just ripe fruit, because it has the most pectin. Small strawberries can stay whole, but big ones will need to be halved or quartered.

You can get jam sugar with added pectin, and I think it’s worth the little extra expense for strawberry jam. Some recipes only use the juice of the lemon, but I put in the zest as well because it cuts the sweetness a bit.

Heat the strawberries and lemon juice gently in the pan, stirring to reduce the volume. Add the sugar, stir till dissolved and boil until setting point is reached. What you absolutely must have is a jam thermometer. It’s amazing how long it takes to creep the last few micrometers to the right temperature, and it saves a lot of testing. When you get up to temperature start to test the jam by dropping a blob on to a chilled saucer. Push the blob with your finger, and if the surface wrinkles you’ve got a set.

Leave the jam undisturbed for about ten minutes, skimming off any scum that has formed. This resting allows the fruit to sink and means that you have more evenly distributed fruit in the finished jam. The idea is to get a jar full of fruit held in a syrupy suspension, not a jar full of red mush.

My absolutely most favourite jam is blackcurrant. This is jam for grown-ups I always think. This is jam for a flaky croissant, with a good cup of coffee, rumpled bedclothes, Sunday newspapers…


1 kg blackcurrants
1 ½ pints water
1 ½ kg sugar

Try to get good plump blackcurrants and pick over to remove stalks.

Stew slowly with the water until the skins are soft, which will take at least half an hour. If you don’t do this properly you will end up with hard ‘boot button’ currants in your jam.

Add the sugar, stirring over a low heat until dissolved and then boil rapidly until setting point is reached.

If you figure out how much it costs you to make your own jam it doesn’t work out particularly cheap. But there is simply no comparison between what you make yourself and the rubbish sold in shops. It’s quite a soothing thing to do, standing in the kitchen listening to the radio. And I love the Waltons moment of putting the gleaming jars into the cupboard with pride!


Bonnie said...

June - have you ever heard of using butter in the jamming process?

I made a batch of strawberry jam using my allotment neighbours strawberries. I used the recipe on the back of the silverspoon packet of the jamming sugar which called for 50grams of butter.

Needless to say it is one of the best strawberry jams I've ever had. It set perfectly and tastes amazing (which is probably due to the strawberries themselves). But have you, or anyone else, heard of putting a dab of butter in with the fruit?? And what does it do?

June said...

Hi Bonnie

My mother always butters the inside of the preserving pan before she makes jam. I asked her why and she said because her mother in law always did! I think it might be to stop sugar crystals forming around the rim of the jam, or it might help to prevent scum. But my grandmother had different sugar and a different pan so who knows!

Judy said...

Butter disperses foam, keeps it from floating like little islands on top of your seething, boiling preserves, and then clumping on top of the bottled preserves.

June, if you find strawberry preserves too sweet (or if they didn't set) - when ready to use run the strawberry "stuff" through a food processor and serve it as strawberry sauce over ice cream or pound cake.

I'm about to start on blueberry preserves. it's that time of year over here in New jersey, aka the Garden State, and the place where blueberry cultivation was first developed, down in the Pine Barrens early in the 20th century. They're wonderful fresh, in cobblers and muffins and blueberry pie, and in preserves. Freeze well too.


June said...


Yest another reason to respect my grandmother!

I do envy you the blueberries - it's the one fruit I wish we grew here, but all of ours are imported.

Judy said...

June, if you really want to feel envious about our blueberries, go to my web site click on Diary, then go to July 2007. Some luscious pictures . . . Could you not grow blueberry bushes yourself?


Figs Olives Wine said...

What a wonderful post. We did pick your own quite often when I was a child in Fife. Wimbledon with huge pots of raspberry and strawberry jam billowing forth fragrant clouds of steam in the background. I guess our harvest was a few weeks later than yours typically is, since we were further north.

Anyway, I do hope your pick your own farm manages to stay afloat - it's far too lovely a tradition to lose! This blackcurrant jam looks irresistible to me. I wish there was better blackcurrant availability States side. There are a few pathetic tubs in the super market for $9 each. I'm going to ask some of the berry growers at the farmer's market if they know of anywhere I can find some.

Thanks for such a gorgeous post!

June said...

The east coast of Scotland is where the very best raspberries come from - I used to live in Dumfriesshire and my mother and her friends would take it in turns to drive up there and bring back car loads of them.

You and Judy - see post - should get together - she seems to know good places for such things. I'm sure you're only a few hundred miles apart!

What a very good idea about growing the blueberries. I am about to move, and I hope about to become the proud owner of an allotment so there are possibilities!

Cherie said...

June - Your blog is so lovely; every once in a while I dip in to see what you've been enjoying. I don't particularly relish strawberry jam either, though I adore the smell of it's being made.
Now, if those strawberries were combined with rhubarb and baked into a pie, and served with fresh cream or velvety custard...

(Sigh.) You simply cannot beat the flavour of freshly picked local produce, or the satisfaction of knowing the folks who grow/raise the food you & your family eat. Long live the PYO!

June said...

You are very kind. And I'm sure you would agree that there is only one place for strawberry jam - and that's under a cushion of clotted cream on top of a scone!

lindy said...

Your strawberry jam looks gorgeous, I envy you. I didn't have enough real strawberries this year to do any, and I love it.

I have taken to adding (thanks to the hints of jam-goddess C.Ferber) a little pepper and a little balsamic vinegar to mine. I was hesitant at first, there is so much balsamic everywhere these days-I thought it sounded pretentious- but it does go really well with strawberries- and it are just enough of a de-sweetener, I think. The pepper is only a tiny pinch, but I like it.

June said...

That's brilliant! It will give a little kick but it will still be strawberry jam. Absolutely brilliant!

Susan in Italy said...

Sounds heavenly and I like the addition of the lemon zest as well as the juice to add some zing to the jam. Can't wait to head to Greece where I do all of my jams. Have a great summer, June!

June said...

Have a wonderful time in Greece and do check out Lindy's tip for strawberry jam. I am drying the wild marjoram that grows in the hedgerows here in the hope that it will taste like the greek version - but I fear it lacks the strength of the real thing!

Ash said...

Deep in jam making over here too.

My plum tree decided to bestow it's bounty on us with 10 kilos of plums! I have plum and redcurrant jelly, plum and ginger jelly, plum sauce and a whole lot of strained plums waiting to be made into something else.

The blackcurrants were harvested in batches and put into the freezer. I'll make those into jam in a week or so. Then there's the blackberries still to come!

I agree with you about the strawberry jam, it's always a little too sweet. What about putting redcurrants with it?

HerbanGirl said...

I am inspired to make some jam now, although I've never tried it. A nearby friend has a peach tree dripping with fruit, and I'll be off on Sunday morning to pick myself a basketful. Maybe I'll try some peach jam...thanks for the lovely blog as usual!

June said...

Herban Girl

You know, I try to be satisfied with my lot in life and not be envious of other people, but the fact that you live next door to a dripping peach tree is taxing my equanimity! I cannot think of anything more delicious than home made fresh peach jam.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.