Strawberry fields forever… June Jamming

I love the warm June sunshine – it has been a wonderful summer so far and I am thrilled that it is once again Strawberry Season. 
While I would love to be one of those talented gardeners that grow everything I need, my gardening skills are not that successful! Fortunately there is a lovely pick your own farm not to far from home and my friend D and I headed off there last Sunday. 
Its very companionable moving among the warm straw lines, spotting and picking the delicious red berries among the lush green leaves; the sun warming our backs as the gentle breeze plays with strands of our hair, the easy conversation mixing with birdsong as we catch up on our lives. I love the smell of hay as it rises warm from the sun reminding me of so many good times in strawberry fields: childhood days spent roaming the fields, my own children in competition to find the biggest sweetest ones their chins evidence of the fruit that did not make it to their baskets. There is nothing to beat the taste of a strawberry ripe and warmed by the sun. There are so many wonderful pleasures associated with this small simple act, gathering your own is almost as good as growing your own and the price of the strawberries makes it worthwhile too. 
Of course jam making is a slow process; one that fills my kitchen with the sweet delicious smell while they seep in the sugar. I tried a few new ideas this year as strawberry jam is notorious for not setting well – I was thrilled that I achieved the soft set I was hoping for.
 I have included the recipe here if you want to make some yourself, it is very satisfying to have the jam on the shelf only days after they are picked – it gives me a glorious sense of blissful domesticity. 
I made around 2 1/2 lb of jam (strictly it is a conserve but I call it jam!)
You will need:
900g / 2lb strawberries, hulled. 
900g / 2lb of preserving sugar (it contains pectin which will help your jam to set) 
2 apples
2 lemons 
15g / 1 knob of butter 
A preserving pan 
Sugar thermometer (it really does take the guesswork out of finding the setting point) 
A muslin square  
Jam funnel (it is one of those really useful items that you only discover once you have one!) 
3 medium sized clean jam jars with lids
Wax paper discs 
Layer the strawberries in the sugar and allow to seep, preferably overnight
Peel and then finely grate the apple – place the peel and core in the muslin square and knot tightly to encase the apple then add to the strawberries and sugar. 
Cook over a low heat stirring continuously until the sugar has dissolved, then allow to boil gently for around 5 minutes just enough for the fruit to soften. Turn off the heat and cover with a clean tea towel and allow to stand for another night. 
Before you begin cooking the jam -place two saucers in the freezer, you will need them to be very cold in order to check the jam for setting. 
Sterilise the jam jars by placing them into a warm oven (lowest setting).  This will also mean that the jars won’t crack when you spoon the hot jam into them. 
Add the juice and grated rind of the two lemons to the strawberries and place the sugar thermometer on the side of the pan ensuring that it is not touching the bottom of the pan. 
Bring the jam back up to boiling point, stirring the fruit now and then – boil rapidly (the jam will do a rolling motion) for around 5 minutes. Check the thermometer – the temperature should reach about 220 or the ‘jam’ setting. 
To test for setting -take a small teaspoon of jam and place it on the plate, return to the freezer for a few moments;  the jam should be slightly thick when you push your finger through it. If it remains runny then boil again for a few more minutes and then repeat the test until you are happy with the set. 
Place your butter into the jam and turn off the heat, stir the butter until all the bubbles are gone. 
Let your jam to cool a little (about 10 minutes) so that the fruit will be evenly distributed in the jar rather than sinking to the bottom. 
Ladle into the warm jars and cover with a wax disc. Run a damp cloth round the edge of the jar, this will discourage mould to form. Screw up tightly and allow to cool. 
Label and decorate with fabric and ribbon if you wish; enjoy the warm glow of being a domestic goddess!  
Delicious on a warm baked scone or fresh white crusty bread and butter! 

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Jamming!

I have been rather remiss of late, these lovely pots of jelly are made from L’s apples growing in her garden. We really enjoyed the mint jelly at the Apple fair at West Dean so I thought I would try and make my own. Apples are a great fruit to use in jam making as their high pectin levels set so easily. I had some scraps of this lovely blue rose vintage style fabric which I simply cannot bear to throw away, such a great use of scraps. 
The cow creamer is a burleigh design, and one of my favourites it always makes me smile when the milk comes out of the cow’s mouth! The little tea pot on the right is one of a pair my son gave me a few Christmases ago. I really do love blue and white china. 
Apple jelly is great to use with pork, but I decided to omit the mint this time. The cupboard is getting quite full now, but the supply of jars is still coming thick and fast from friends! (I think it is the hope that they will be returned full!) I am planning to start on mincemeat soon, I have never made it before but as A adores mince pies I thought it would be fun to try. 
As you can see my little dresser creates a great back drop for my jam, the little teapot on the right is a lovely gift from my son, and the chicken on the left was something I picked up in the lovely craft village in Broadwindsor a few years ago. I really must get round to painting my dresser soon; I feel it really shows off the shape of the furniture much better, but it is finding the time! Anyway, it is nice to have plans, and the sofa needs a new loose cover first. 

September

I love September it gives me a sense of connection at no other time of year, although it heralds the start of Autumn for me it is all about new beginnings.

I remember that excitement of walking to school again after the long summer holidays with a spring in my step the anticipation of a new class teacher or that sense of excitement when you step over the threshold of your senior school for the first time. I only have to close my eyes and I am walking through the piles of crunchy leaves smelling the crisp fresh air of September as I tread the path to school. September was a time when you were given new fresh exercise books and also where you were determined to ‘write neatly’ to preserve the beauty of the notebooks. I am sure the sheer delight I have in buying a vast and wide selection of notebooks harps back to this.

The other joy of this time of year is jam making and blackberry picking. We used to blackberry pick as children, enjoying the free food harvest and my mother would appreciate us bringing back plastic boxes laden with fruit to be made into blackberry and apple crumble. It was while I was out one day I came across an extraordinary woman, who I think influenced me more than any other. She took us back to her small victorian cottage where in her pieced together kitchen, a far cry from my Mother’s immaculate but hardly used fitted one, she taught us things like jam making, candid peel and cordials. Her garden was full of vegetables waiting to be picked sitting on her threadbare chaise long one afternoon after stirring the Christmas pudding, I think I decided this was how I wanted to live my life. It was a taste of domestic bliss. I knew she wasn’t as rich as we were as a family, her house was small and scruffy whereas ours was pristine and glossy, yet, I would have done anything to live in that small house with her. I think she was my inspiration and I do feel connected with her every time I make jam or bake a cake but especially when I pick blackberries because that was how we met.

I made both jam and raspberry syrup with my hoard, this jam is a pot full of memories spending a lovely warm sunny afternoon picking the raspberries chatting to my friend Trish. We were inspired by the talk by Rosemary Moon gave at the Blakes Belles the previous Monday. Rosemary made a couple of pounds of jam as well as apple curd and pickles within the space of an hour or so. She also told us about the Apple Festival coming up at West Dean I am really looking forward to going, not only do they do some wonderful courses, but they have the most beautiful grounds I have been told. Rosemary Moon’s website is a sheer delight and if you are looking for recipes that really do work well then I can recommend it. She really does know her stuff, and had us all giggling. I love it when we can be inspired by others.

The other joy of September is that I feel the excitement building for Christmas, I love planning and cooking and making things for the Celebration and it is a wonderful three months, but then that is another post.

Happy jam making!

Tayberries

It was a short spell of sunshine that made the idea of pick your own tempting as we passed Roundstone Farm. http://www.roundstonefarm.co.uk/

 The  fruit wasn’t as well signposted, and it was a little muddy underfoot, so we ended up next to the bayberry bushes and could not find raspberries anywhere.

Tayberries are a cross between black berries and raspberries, but they have their own unique flavour.

This took days to strain but well worth the effort, it does mean that you get a very good jam base that can be used as a basis for sorbets and puddings, mixed with apple works well, or simply little jam tarts!

The syrup is good on ice cream, or combined with fizzy water for a nice long drink. The best thing about eating the jelly is the memory of spending the afternoon gathering the fruits together, it was the first bright day for a while and we picked them together.

There is definitely something goddess like, to have these little pots sitting in the pantry.

Oranges and lemons

 I love marmalade but the best bit for me is the thickly cut rind, and it seems that no matter how expensive the make of marmalade it is more jelly than fruit. 

I like to make my own marmalade, and often double up the number of oranges to make it extra fruity. Hartley’s do a  very good marmade, which makes up to 6lb and great value and usually makes it very successful, but I add my own oranges. 

Cut 8 large oranges in half, and extract the juice and then put the oranges in a large maslin pan, cover them with water and bring to the boil for around an hour and a half. Switch off then allow to cool. 

Take the orange halves and scrape out the inner segments and scrape out the white pith. Chop the rind either thinly or thickly to your preference. Using the directions on the marmade, but instead of water use the juice, it really brings out the orange flavour. You can also use jam sugar which has added pectin if you wish, this will help the marmalade set. 





I have been trying out different recipes for cheesecakes, I know the cooked cheesecake is the best for flavour, but no matter how hard I try the biscuit base ends up soggy. so I decided to try a non cook cheese cake using cream and muscapone but to bring out the real flavour of lemons I made some lemon curd. Make the usual digestive biscuit base. It really does make a great mix for a lovely lemon cheese cake, just fold into thick cream and muscapone, mix and then pour on top for a lovely lemony flavour. Home made lemon curd tastes so much nicer than commercial types. zest four lemons, add to 5 and a half ounces of melted butter. Add lemon juice and 1 lb of granulated sugar, heat gently until the sugar has melted and then add four beaten eggs. Stir constantly until the curd thickens up and then put in sterilised jars. 

Will keep up to a month, but keep in the fridge once opened. Of course the lemon cheesecake won’t last long at all!