The sun is shining (for now), the flowers have bloomed, plants have fruited & Wimbledon has begun… it can only be British summertime!
A very welcome season, us Brits truly know how to make the most it. We light our barbeques at any given ray of sunshine, dining al fresco in the garden until the wasps become unbearable, pitchers of Pimms become the ultimate beverage & a gathering isn’t complete without a serving of pavlova or strawberries & cream.
For me though, there is no better summer treat than the pure indulgence of a cream tea. You can keep your blackened burgers, stale sandwiches & ice creams, a cream tea is traditional, elegant & represents all that is wonderful about British summer cuisine. It is a socially acceptable practice to consume questionable amounts of sugar, fat & butter. It doesn’t even pretend to be anything other than gratuitous, it’s just a proper old-fashioned treat.
No respectable cream tea would be complete without the sickly, almost overly-sweet, strawberry jam. The ultimate in jams, from young to old, everyone has a soft spot for it. Be it in a jam sandwich, spread on toast, sandwiched in a Victoria sponge ,or indeed crowning a scone (depending on which part of the country you’re from of course).
If the craving for jam strikes, then there is no better to satisfy it than strawberry. Homemade jam is easier to make than most people expect & it’s not only great on your toast but also makes a great gift for someone.
Today, jam is considered a treat or a delicacy however, jam was created more out of necessity, as a means of preserving the seasons harvest of fruits. the history of jam dates back to the Greeks, who used to preserve quince & other fruits in honey. The first known recipe for jam however dates back from the 1st century AD where it appears in collection of Roman cookery recipes, in De Re Coquinaria (The Art of Cooking). In its simplest form, jam was a concoction of soft fruits heated together with honey, cooled & then stored. It wasn’t until the 16th century that we began to use cane sugar, imported to Europe from the new world, to preserve fruit.
Jam is literally a staple in our history, us Brits love it, according to the internet around 20 million of us are regular jam users (although I’m sure I can account for a substantial amount of that myself). In fact, in during WWII a government grant was issued to The Women’s Institute to buy sugar for jam making, named the ‘Co-operative Fruit Preservation Scheme’. This was to address widespread anxiety about a food shortage, with up to two thirds of Britain’s food being imported we had to find ways of producing more food at home. Largely made by volunteers in more than 5,000 ‘preservation centres’, farm kitchens, village halls, school kitchens & sheds, over 5,300 tons of fruit was preserved between 1940 & 1945 to feed the nation.
Whether it’s out of necessity or as a treat, preserving the summers finest fruits is a great way to cheer up a cold Winter morning’s breakfast with the taste of summer. For the best jam, always use fresh strawberries which will hold their shape better when cooking & give a chunkier, sweeter jam (if you prefer a smoother jam though, mash them up with a potato masher first). Whether you pick your own or buy a punnet from the market, making your own strawberry jam really couldn’t be easier & not only saves the pennies over buying ready-made but it’ll have so much more flavour than store bought. You can even give your jam a twist, try adding in some vanilla pods, thyme leaves or elderflower to make it your own.
- 1kg fresh strawberries
- 1kg granulated sugar
- Juice of 2 lemons
- Knob of butter
- Before beginning, place a small saucer into the freezer to chill
- Roughly chop the strawberries, quartering larger ones & halving smaller ones
- Tip the strawberries, sugar & lemon juice into a maslin pan or large heavy bottomed saucepan
- Gently heat the fruit & sugar over a low heat until the sugar has completely dissolved & no grains remain
- Add a sugar thermometer to the pan & bring the mixture to the boil
- Continue to boil the mixture until it reaches 102°C on the thermometer (about 5-10 minutes)
- Test to see if setting point has been reached by placing a small drop of the jam onto the chilled saucer
- Push your finger through the jam & if the surface wrinkles, it’s done. If not continue cooking for a further a few minutes & test again
- Leave the jam to cool for about 10 minutes
- Add the knob of butter to the jam & stir through to help clear any scum on the surface of the mixture, use a slotted spoon to remove any excess
- Pot up into clean, sterilised jars & label
Check out my 12 step jam making guide for a little help with all things jam!