Second only to (Philippine) mangoes, strawberries are at the top of my list of favorite fruits. It's funny how the sight of strawberries never fails to cheer me up regardless of what kind of day I'm having. What's not to love? They're pretty to look at, these heart-shaped little red gems, they're incredibly sweet and delicious and pack a flavorful punch with each bite, they're fat free (!) and are high in fiber and Vitamin C (even more than a citrus fruit), rich in anti-oxidants, and they're easy to eat and prepare-no peeling or seeding required, and they're so versatile.
As an aside, did you know there's an entire museum dedicated to this fruit in Belgium?
Now when I'm confronted with a bowl- or basketful of strawberries, my brain begins to reel with a swirl of possibilities. As was the case when I bought home 5 kgs of the fruit from Baguio. Actually now 2 1/2 kgs, because I sent half to my sister.
Do I mash it milk and sugar like I'd always done as a child? Should I dunk it in Nutella, mmm? Or pour melted chocolate all over it then dip in cream? Or maybe fire up the blender and make some strawberry-yogurt smoothies? I could save some to use on my cereal and muesli too. Am I feeling brave enough to attempt the strawberry trifle I've often dreamed of making? Whatever I decided to do with them, I needed to do it fast! I had to make the most of every piece because they weren't going to last much longer.
And what better way to preserve the flavor of these sweet strawberries than to make jam? So make jam I did. I heaved off the shelf the tome that is The Gourmet Cookbook and found two recipes. One for a quick and easy version, and the other which required longer stove top time which is what I eventually went with.
I halved the recipe and followed the instructions, marvelling the entire time at how simple and easy it was. As I stirred and skimmed, the sweet intoxicating fragrance of the strawberries only intensified as the sugar melted into thickening red oblivion. The result was a brilliant red jam with the perfect amount of lumps and a flavor so amazing, I swore I'd never settle for store-bought strawberry jam again. My folks loved it, and so did a couple of friends I each gave a small jar to.
Again I wonder, why have I never made my own jam before?
Makes 2 medium-sized jars.
1 kg fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
1 ¾ cups sugar
3 tbsp lemon juice
Sterilize jars and lids by boiling them in hot water for about 10 minutes.
Chill a plate for testing later. Using a potato masher, crush strawberries lightly. Transfer to a heavy bottomed pot and add the sugar. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stir and skim off foam frequently for 10 minutes.
Add the lemon juice and cook at a slow boil, skimming and stirring frequently until jam tests done.
Begin testing at 20 minutes; remove pot from heat while testing. Drop a spoonful of jam onto a chilled plate and refrigerate for 1 minute, then tilt plate. Jam should remain in a soft mound and run slightly.
Drain jars upside down on a clean kitchen towel for 1 minute, then invert and ladle jam into jars. Leave about ¼ inch space at the top. Let jam stand for at least 1 day to allow the flavors to develop. (If jam won't be consumed immediately, seal and process the jars properly.) Keep refrigerated.
That's it! :)
Here are some helpful tips I gathered from the same book:
When picking strawberries, choose fresh and fragrant ones with an even color; without a white or green 'shoulder', an indication that they aren't ripe. Discard any moldy berries, but those that are merely soft, wrinkled or bruised can be used.
Store berries in a single layer on a baking sheet, or in a shallow baking dish lined with paper towels in your refrigerator.
Don't wash them until you're ready to use them, and leave their green caps on until you've dried them so the don't get waterlogged. Because of their high water content, strawberries can't be frozen as successfully as cherries or blueberries.
Homemade guava jam, here I come! :)