Sunday, May 23, 2010

Summer and Strawberries - Jam in a Heatwave

The heatwave we've all dreamt of has finally arrived and we are holding our collective breath that if we get complacent it'll be whipped away, Celtic Tiger-style, bringing us down to earth with a bang as the sunshine bubble bursts. We've had so much comeuppance with the pay cuts and the economic freefall in the past year that we hardly dare hope for good times any more, or we'll be put right back in our box again. That's how Irish Catholic guilt works, and it takes more than a sunny day or two to purge that baggage! So carpe diem is the way to go, each day as it comes and enjoy like there's no tomorrow. For me that doesn't translate into a buzz of activity, rather the opposite where indolence and relaxation become paramount.

Today was a near-perfect Sunday, with the Sunday gossip, interviews and newspaper reviews on the Marian Finucane show (although it was the excellent Rachael English standing in for Marian) and a lone brunch on the patio - of our home-grown fresh strawberries and cream on pancakes with maple syrup, and delicious double muesli with yogurt and more strawberries and grapes, all washed down with the ubiquitous cuppa tea and a glass of (Super-Valu) summer fruits drink on the side. I finished yesterday's Irish Times as I haven't been to the shops for the Sunday Times yet, and I read a few more chapters of our online Bloggers' Book Club book for this month - Let the Great World Spin by the terrific Irish/US-based Colum McCann.

Basking in glorious sunshine, I felt really at ease and relaxed. Why alone, you may ask? Teen daughter upstairs doing her homework, and youngest son off playing cricket with the Lismore team in Cork, where he'll be joined by his oldest brother who lives there and also plays for Lismore. Middle son is still in Dublin finishing his MA studies, and hubby Jan is off on a mega-cycle of 120km along the Copper Coast to Bunmahon and back. So I haven't been abandoned, just home (almost) alone by choice. I will mooch down to the shop for the paper, and drop by the Farmers' Market for some great samosas from Pie in the Sky, a new foodie stall by Maeve Geoghegan, whose imaginative dips and salsas and lemonades have to be tasted to be believed.

I've picked about four pounds of strawberries from our polytunnel in the past three days, and have made jam from half of them, as there are too many to eat them all with cream, or on pancakes, or with yogurt in the breakfast muesli - as I did today!

This jam recipe is simplicity itself, and I use special Jam Sugar if I have it, or normal white sugar otherwise. Normal sugar works fine but takes a bit longer to set to just beyond runny.

(I hate stiff jam, and it's perfect when it's not drippy or runny but it doesn't have to pass the upside-down jar test - that's when you hold the cooled jam jar upside down it doesn't move!)

Strawberry Jam

Ingredients

  1. 1 pound/500g of sugar to each pound/500g of strawberries
  2. 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice per pound/500g of fruit
  3. Water to cover base of pan
Method
  1. Hull and rinse the ripe strawberries
  2. Put in pan with lemon juice and water

  3. Cover and bring to boil, then simmer until fruit is soft

  4. Add sugar and stir to dissolve - uncovered

  5. Bring to boil and reduce heat

  6. Boil gently for 10-15 mins until setting point reached - when jam wrinkles on a cold plate when tilted

  7. Skim off scum as it forms

  8. Pour into warmed glass jars


Handy Tips: Warming the jars in the oven is best, as it sterilises them and ensures they won't break when you pour in the hot jam. Put jars in a cold oven and turn on to a medium heat -150 degrees Centigrade/300 degrees Fahrenheit - for 10 mins.

After you fill the jam jars, seal immediately with metal caps - preferably with the vacuum seal in the lid centre that you will hear pop as the jam cools.

Warning! Setting point can be reached quite fast with Jam Sugar so don't go too far from the kitchen or get lost in an absorbing book or some trash TV show!

Enjoy the jam with fresh-baked bread and butter, or indulge with scones and cream, or on pancakes with cream. This jam will keep for a year but it's unlikely to last that long as it will be finished by Christmas - if you're anything like me - unless you've made a huge stash.

I know some people make sugar-free jam but I find that this 50:50 mix works fine to make a deliciously sweet jam - the lemon offsets any excessive sweetness - and it preserves it perfectly - they don't call jams preserves for nothing!

The photos - from the top:

  • My perfect brunch on the patio
  • The view of the garden today
  • Lismore Farmers' Market on the Castle Avenue
  • Pie in the Sky stall
  • Strawberry bed in the polytunnel
  • From Strawberry to Jam - various stages

9 comments:

Stephanie V said...

Yum! Lucky you with garden strawberries so soon. I'm looking at our blossoms and willing them to be fruit.
Isn't it lovely to have a day to oneself?

Marilyn said...

I think I must make strawberry jam this year. It is so cold here and raining. Please send a little sun our way. The strawberries need to get ripe and full of sunshine. I need some sunshine too.

Jeanne said...

Catherine..sounds like you had a lovely weekend and I love that you provided this wonderful jam recipe. I like your carpe diem philosophy.
It is the only way to go!

Best wishes for a wonderful week.

Jeanne:)

Lynda said...

Not sure if my first comment published or not - just wanted to say that it looks like you had a nice, relaxing weekend (the strawberries look great !) & I hope that your hot weather continues ....

Menopausal musing said...

Gosh you are early with your strawberries. Ours are outside, some under glass cloches and some not. I was getting all excited because they have had the straw put under them at the weekend. Only two ripe so far.

Lydia said...

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Lilly Higgins said...

That must be amazing to have a glut of strawberries! Ours are hard and green and I'm willing them on. There'll be a big fuss made whenevr we get a red one! You'll be so glad of that summery jam in the winter!x

Winifred said...

You lucky chuck having all those gorgeous strawberries.

Have to say I'm struggling with that book, Let the Great World Spin. Think I'm not in the mood for it. Need something a bit more uplifting. I have a PG Wodehouse waiting in the wings. Roll on Jeeves and Wooster!

Catherine said...

Thanks for all the nice things you said about the jam and strawberries.

Stephanie V - we are a bit early as the strawberries are in the polytunnel which gives them a headstart on outdoors. Good luck with yours and be sure to post photos of the crop!

Marilyn - I hope I inspired you to think about making jam later when your crop comes in! I don't know much about Oregon's climate but I think of it as being kinda green and cool like Washington state (never been but read books set there- East of the Mountain by David Guterson was a lovely one) and maybe you have a bit longer to go for your fruit to ripen. Don't forget we have the tunnel which helps!

Jeanne - yes, I said Carpe Diem and really feel it's needed - the sunny weather has lasted for the past few days and we are all enjoying it. I am at work but at times like this driving around the beautiful coastal countryside doesn't even seem stressful!

Cathy - Bristol would be about the same latitude as Lismore I think - so I don't know if yours are late or ours early! I know the polytunnel helps. we haven't put straw down, just pick them before watering the tunnel so they are nice and dry. Good luck with yours! and maybe you will have some nice jam too.

Lynda - the nice weather goes on , and we're still getting plenty of strawbs - as I wrote on Facebook it's like triffids now - out of control and I'm not keeping pace with them!

Lydia - thanks for visiting - I checked out the free site of that directory, I have a few other ones too and it does bump up traffic but I like the followers I have, growing a list slowly. Keep in touch and follow it if you like.

Lilly - thanks for dropping by - I will be reminded of the summer when I have December jam! I think it's the heat in the tunnel, as they are always this early. Hope we get an apple crop this year now, last year was a disaster. Lots of blossom but no apples, the summer did for them. Too many monsoons - our banana tree survived the winter and now is putting up 7 new shoots. Should be fun to see how big it'll grow - I'll have to monitor its progress pictorially! Watch this space.

Winifred - I am reading the book and enjoying it but it is bleak! Not inkeeping with the lovely sunny days. Still I will persist hoping that the human spirit will triumph in the end! I do love PG Wodehouse too - have a whole shelf of orange Penguin editions from my mother's time. Read them all in my teens and twenties, time for a re-read! The strawberry jam is flying every day a few more pots.