Strawberry Jam for Tea

I love strawberry jam. Over the past week I’ve made four batches, and I’ll be at it again as soon as I can scrounge more jam jars. Actually, I’m finding it hard to keep up with the prolificacy of my strawberry patch this year and my local street market is virtually giving strawberries away. You’d have thought that recent downpours would have produced watery fruit but I have yet to be disappointed. The glossy, brilliant red berries with their tiny yellow pips and bright green crown of leaves are dense yet juicy, delivering intense strawberry flavour. Apart from guzzling them with cream and turning them through whipped cream with chunks of meringue to make Eton Mess, I’ve made parfaits and fools, shakes and purees to spoon over ice cream and dilute into cordial, but strawberry gluts are traditionally destined for jam, the perfect reminder of summer during the cold winter months. I like my Strawberry Jam with big chunks of fruit and a tang of acidity to offset the sweetness of the vast amounts of sugar required to preserve and help the jam set. Strawberries are notoriously poor setters so chose unblemished fruit and on no account add water. The juice from a couple of lemons, plus a handful of redcurrants, if you happen to have them, give enough extra pectin to ensure setting and take the edge off the sweetness of this ambrosial jam. Most recipes tell you to boil the fruit and sugar until it wrinkles when a spoonful is cooled on a saucer. That has never happened whenever I’ve made strawberry or similarly poor-setting blackberry jam, but my recent conversion to using a proportion of preserving sugar rather than granulated, seems to solve all problems. My teatime toast is currently spread with last years’ bramble jam, also made with preserving sugar. Not only did it set perfectly but not rigidly, but the flavour is as intense as it was last August, and the jam has no hint of mould even though I don’t keep the opened jar in the fridge.  Combining strawberries with rhubarb is not an original idea but it comes highly recommended, particularly for allotmenteers, who might well have plenty of that too. The St Clements mentioned in the title – St Clements Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam – refers to oranges and lemon juice.

Strawberry Jam
Makes 6 x 340g jars (although sensible to fill a few small jars for presents)

Prep: 45 min
Cook: 45 min

1.6kg strawberries
2 large lemons
1.4kg preserving sugar

Rinse then hull the strawberries. It’s rare, I find, for the core to pull out easily, so I use a small, sharp knife, running it around the base of the leaves in a pointed plug shape, turning the strawberry not the knife. It takes 20 minutes to do this quantity, so settle down comfortably. Leave small strawberries whole, halve medium fruit and quarter large ones. Tip strawberries and lemon juice (plus a handful of redcurrants if you have them) into a preserving pan or very large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, large enough to allow the jam to boil dramatically high. Simmer very gently, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes until the fruit is soft and totally immersed in juice. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 150C/gas mark 2. Measure the sugar into a mixing bowl and warm through in the oven for 8 minutes. Tip the warm sugar into the fruit (still over a medium-low heat) and stir constantly until you no longer hear the gritty noise of sugar catching in the pan. Turn the heat as high as possible, allowing the frothy jam to boil high in the pan. Stir regularly, watching out for splashes, paying particular attention to the base walls, stirring round, across and in a figure of eight, continuing for 10 minutes before dropping a teaspoonful of jam on a saucer. Allow to go cold, then push with the side of a finger to assess the crinkle factor which is likely to be nil. Boil, stirring, for a further 5 minutes or so until the frothy bubbling submerges slightly. Test again, it will be less runny. Turn off the heat. Leave for 15 minutes. This ensures the fruit settles evenly through the jam, and scrape any white foam to the side and out of the pan. Pour through a funnel into sterilized jars, going right up to the top. Cover immediately with waxed circles and lids. Cool, wipe away jam dribbles, label and store away from direct light.

St Clements Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam
Makes 4 x 350g jars
Prep: 30 min
Cook: 45 min

600g strawberries
600g rhubarb
900g preserving sugar
1 large lemon
1 juicing orange

Rinse then hull the strawberries. Slice the rhubarb in 1cm chunks. Place both in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with the juice of the lemon, zest and juice of the orange. Simmer gently, cooking until the juices cover the rhubarb. Reduce the heat even lower and cook for a further 10 minutes or so, until the rhubarb is tender. Stir in the warmed sugar (see above), stir until dissolved, increase the heat and proceed as for previous recipe.