Monday, November 12, 2012

That's amore!

We lived for a year in Melbourne when we migrated to Australia some 25 years ago.  We ended up coming to Perth because my dad hated his job there and despised the miserable weather.  Of the weather, all my 6 or 7-year old brain remembered of Melbourne was winds strong enough to break umbrellas and lift me off the ground (I remember clinging to my grandfather as we walked to school), gloomy skies, cold and rain.  But I had other memories too: the house we lived in had a big backyard filled with fruit trees and lots of other  plants.  To this day the most delicious apricot I've ever had was from one of our backyard trees - soft, juicy, sweet and packed with flavour.  I also remember my mum making vats of strawberry jam: we never seemed to run out of strawberries!  

I've always dreamed of growing enough strawberries to make my own jam but have never had her green thumb when it came to growing my own.  I've never harvested more than about 5 fruit at a time and over the past 4 years I think I've killed close to 20 strawberry plants through fungal disease caused by over watering, or dehydration as a result of overcompensation. 

Last week at work a lady came to reception selling 500gm punnets of organic strawberries that she had picked fresh that morning.  Each punnet was $6.  I bought one thinking of my own strawberries, few and far between as they were, but sweet and fragrant.  Unfortunately these little guys smelled amazing, but were a little too much on the tart side for me.  Not being one to let anything go to waste, I decided (funnily enough, at 9.45pm on a Sunday night) to put those strawberries to use and give jam making a go anyway.

I used these proportions: 
  • A little under 500gm strawberries (I had eaten about 3), washed, hulled and chopped
  • 320gm sugar (reduced from 350 to accommodate the reduction in berries)
  • The juice of a wedge of lemon (about 1/8 a large fruit, perhaps 1/4 to 1/2 of a normal lemon)

I put all the ingredients together in a pot, turned the heat onto low until all the sugar had melted, then turned the heat to med/high to bring it to a rolling boil. 

I boiled the mix for about 15-20 minutes, stirring and testing the consistency occasionally - I had a little saucer in the freezer that I would dollop some jam onto: if after a few minutes it formed a skin that would wrinkle on pushing, or when it maintained its shape after I ran a finger through it, then I knew it was done (much in the same way you would test whether custard is done).  It felt like it took forever! I had almost given up, until I checked and saw that it had substantially deepened in colour and was very thick falling off the spatula.  By this stage the strawberry lumps had almost disintegrated but I tell you what - it smelled absolutely amazing!

The various stages of development - from chunky fruit to sticky jam
I was extremely lazy with the sterilising of my jar - you're supposed to boil it for 10 minutes and then put it in the oven or something like that, but I could just see myself fumbling around a boiling hot jar with a pair of tongs and causing some kind of disaster in the kitchen.  So I wet the jar and stuck it in the microwave for a minute (I later read that microwaving doesn't sterilise jars or baby equipment.  Oops).

While the jar was still hot (the heat evaporated all the water) I scooped/poured the jam into it (I would never deliberately dribble some down the sides so I could lick it up hahaha).  The jam about 3/4 filled a 500gm jar.
It's ready!
So can you guess what I was doing at 6.00am this morning??  You guessed it: scones, cream and a pot of tea!

I'm not a fan of jelly-like jam, so for me this thick gooey texture was just perfect, and I loved the little chunks of strawberry pieces too.  I think the tartness of the strawberries could have afforded me the luxury of using the full amount of sugar but it's still so flavoursome and nothing beats that natural red.  It looks and tastes absolutely delicious!  

It's possibly no wonder about a third of the jar is already gone...

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