I’m spending a few days in Ballandean, near Stanthorpe, at my friends’ vineyard. They have gone to Italy for a joint 50th birthday celebration, and I’m teen-sitting. It’s a pretty easy gig, so I have had lots of time to explore, cook, read, reflect, listen to music and drink some beautiful wine. There are numerous wineries in the area – some making spectacularly good wine – but there are also a number of small enterprises making excellent produce suited to the cool, dry climate of the region.
I’ve visited a cheese maker, specialising in an apple wood smoked cheddar; an olive grove, where I tasted (and bought) a lemon myrtle infused, cold-pressed olive oil that was outstanding, as well as two or three varieties of olives; a jam and preserves enterprise that makes and exports their products Australia-wide; and a bee-keeper, who moves her hives according to the season, and produces subtle eucalyptus honey in the winter (which I also bought). And finally, strawberries, whose growers have had a bumper season, leading to a surplus, and thus, for me at least, the making of jam.
I think strawberry jam is the easiest of all jams to make, and gives a result that is far superior to any store bought jam. It’s full of soft fruit, slightly tart, and bright, bright red. On toast or scones it is superlative. There’s only a few tips to remember and you will get a great result every time. This is a soft jam, because there is not too much pectin in the fruit, but that’s the way I like it – oozing slightly and even dribbling a little down my chin as I eat my breakfast toast.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
1 kg strawberries, hulled, and cut into halves, or quarters if they are large.
500 g sugar (I like to use jam setting sugar, because it has added pectin, making the jam setting more reliable)
Juice of 1 large lemon
The day before you want to make the jam, prepare the strawberries. In a large ceramic or glass bowl layer the strawberries and sugar – a quarter of the strawberries, a quarter of the sugar, and so on. Cover with cling film and leave overnight in a cool place. In the morning, all the sugar will have dissolved and turned a bright red, from the strawberry juices (Tip 1: with no added water the flavour is much more intense). When you are ready to make the jam, heat the oven to 100 C and place in it 3 or 4 small, clean glass jars. (Tip 2: this will sterilise the jars, and ensure the jam will keep). In a large saucepan, add the strawberries and the lemon juice, and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for about 10 minutes. stirring occasionally. Meanwhile place a small saucer in the freezer. After 10 minutes, take the pot off the heat, take a teaspoonful of the jam, put it on the plate and place in the freezer for a minute or so. Take it out and run your finger through the jam. If it wrinkles a little bit, and doesn’t just look like syrup, then the jam is done. Otherwise, return the pot to the heat for another 5 minutes and test again. (Tip 3: be careful not to let the jam stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.) When the jam is ready take off the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Take the jam jars out of the oven and place on a wooden board. Pour the jam into a large glass jug and carefully fill the jam jars to the top. Seal with their lids when cold, and store in the refrigerator.