Posts Tagged lavender

Spendidly special strawberries

Strawberries are a slightly quirky fruit — not the best jam for the beginner — because they don’t contain much pectin and have this distressing tendency to turn to syrup rather than to jam. But my last strawberry jam, a last-minute marriage of strawberries, rhubarb and mint, was amazingly delicious, with a rich, red glow, a beautiful, soft set and a delicate taste of mint. Could I repeat that magic? Can I get a strawberry jam to set without using bought pectin, which I try to avoid because I don’t like the texture it offers.

Cue a recipe from the New York Times last year, which suggests adding a pectin-rich kiwi fruit to the mix. We made two batches with mint and one with lavender, and wow are these yummy. Lovely soft set, deep red color, beautiful fresh taste. The first jam was a little sweet, so we doubled the lemon for the second batch as we jammed our way through a generous eight pounds of fruit. For the first batch, we put the sprigs of mint in at the start, and fished them out at the end, as per the recipe. For the second we chopped the mint up really fine and threw it in at the end. I think the taste is better that way. The boil was far less than the 35-40 minutes the NYT says it will be.

The only problem: Our three batches of jam, two using three pounds of fruit (and three cups of sugar) and one with two pounds of fruit and two cups of sugar, produced a can’t-divide-by-two 11 jars. “There will be blood on the streets,” I muttered, before canning buddy graciously allowed me to take the extra jar, given that I picked the fruit, and will give a couple of jars to the friend who took me out there, helped me pick and drove me home.

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Here’s our take on the recipe.

Strawberry mint (or lavender) jam)
3 pounds strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 cups sugar
1 kiwi fruit, peeled and diced
Juice of 1 (or 2) lemons
4 sprigs of mint (or lavender), stems removed and leaves chopped finely

Put the strawberries in a big pan with the sugar, lemon juice and kiwi fruit, and leave them to sit while you prepare the next batches of fruit. (The recipe says at least 2 hours, we didn’t have that sort of time, and it didn’t seem to matter.) Heat, gently until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil until it sets. Stir often — this jam stays liquid (and very foamy) for a longish while, and the foam suddenly vanishes and it starts to set. Take it off the boil, stir in the chopped herbs, wait for 2-3 minutes to let the fruit settle a bit, and then bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath for 10 minutes.

The very detailed  recipe says boil the jam until it reaches 210F on a candy thermometer, but I’ve never managed to make the candy thermometer idea work. Instead, we test our jam for set by putting a small blob on a cold plate and seeing if you can draw your finger through and leave a gap. But you also get a good idea from how easy it is to stir. And even a syrupy jam works just fine with plain yogurt, which is my preferred way of using up my jams anyway.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)
Boring, I know, but it’s another drop-dead delicious jam.

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Mmmmm, strawberries (part 3)

One of my earliest jam-making memory is of strawberry jam, or rather at my mother’s attempts to make strawberry jam. Strawberries are low in pectin, you see, and my mother’s strawberry jam never seemed to set, regardless of how many hours it spent at a rolling boil on the stove. She was one of those people who were pathologically unable to follow a recipe (I sometimes think I inherited that gene), and that didn’t help matters. One time we raced out to the supermarket to buy pectin and one time she read a newspaper article that suggested letting the strawberry/sugar mix sit for 3-4 days before cooking it up. She tried that, the batch started fermenting, and if my memory serves me correctly, she threw it all away. When a strawberry jam finally did set, once a year or so, it was usually boiled almost brown, with the strawberries wizened to delicious chewiness. It tasted good, but only if you ate it with your eyes shut.

So all that goes to say that I’ve always been somewhat frightened of unadulterated strawberry jam, and the pickled strawberry jam recipe that canning buddy and I made few weeks back just proved my point.  It sounded interesting, but it was barely more than a syrup, and it just tasted odd. Better to mix strawberries with rhubarb, or gooseberry, or redcurrants and have a jam that works, I thought.

Why then did I break all my promises to myself and make almost-unadulterated strawberry jam this weekend, even though canning buddy has all the recipe books, and I didn’t even check the internet for ideas? Am I mad?

No, I am not mad, and by pure luck and a little bit of invention I’ve ended up with a knock-your-socks off strawberry preserve that sits nicely on the spoon, uses no pectin, is infused subtly with lavender, is almost not sweet and will probably not last beyond the end of this week. I asked the spouse to rate this one out of five, after serving him with a generous dollop atop his favorite vanilla ice cream . “Is it a jam, or a preserve,” he asked. “Let’s call it a preserve, it can be a little runnier that way.”

He gave it a five (Edit: out of five). I think that might be a little mean.

Strawberry lavender jam

2 quarts strawberries, cut in halves or quarters
2 cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
4 sprigs lavender

Mix the first three ingredients with two of the lavender sprigs and let it sit for 4-5 hours until the sugar is virtually dissolved and the strawberries are sitting in juice. Remove the fruit carefully with a slotted spoon, toss the lavender sprigs, and bring the syrup up to a boil, slowly until the sugar finishes dissolving, and then at a rolling boil until it reaches 221F on a candy thermometer.

While that’s happening you can strip the spikes off the other two sprigs of lavender, and chop them very finely. Watch the syrup carefully and stir a lot toward the end to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Add the strawberries and boil for 5-6 minutes until it sets when you put a few drops on a cold plate. Add the lavender and boil for another 30 seconds or so.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath for 10 minutes, or just keep in the fridge and eat.

Rating (out of 5)
5, or maybe even 6. A perfect taste of concentrated summer in a jar.

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