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!