Making jam is something that brings me an immense amount of joy! Not just because of the heavenly smell that wafts from the simmering pot on the stove but because that heavenly smell makes me feel like a kid again. It transports me back to being barely tall enough to peer over the stove when my sister and I would help my mom make strawberry jam. We’d get boxes full of cheap, overripe strawberries in the middle of summer from a neighbour who farmed them and then spend the day trimming and simmering them so we could enjoy the sweetness of summer all year around. Because there’s nothing that can brighten up a gloomy winter day than a thick slick of cheery strawberry jam on warm toast! The other reason making jam makes me happy is that I get to use my very special vintage sugar thermometer – it belonged to my great great grandmother and has been handed down to each baker in the family. It makes my heart incredibly happy to put it into a pot of jam for what must be the 10 000th time!
The first step to delicious jam, is getting your hands on some seriously delicious fruit. And while I don’t have a neighbour growing an endless supply of strawberries (trust me, it’s on my list for the next move) so a trip to a strawberry farm was on the cards (and it’s probably going to be on yours too.) There are stacks of places where you can pick your own fruit in South Africa – the closest farm to me was Polkadraai Farm near Stellenbosch, but there’s also Tangaroa Strawberry Farm in Magaliesberg and The Red Berry Farm in my hometown of George. Know of any more? Anyway, I got ridiculously excited and picked about 2kg of strawberries which cost me just R90! Who’s getting jam for Christmas? Everyone.
There’s jam, and there is really really delicious jam that’s so good you want to dollop it on ice cream or squish it between melting moments. The first, is obviously, use the sweetest, juiciest fruit that’s in the height of season – and at it’s most delicious. The second, is to use an excellent quality sugar; all sugars are not created equal and since we’re highlighting the deliciousness of nature, we should use an equally natural sugar. The brand new Natura Sugars Light Golden Brown Sugar is unrefined, fine textured and perfect for making jam!
The third secret I learnt from the appelkooskonfyt queen (apricot jam queen) of Cape Town, Tannie Anita Boonzaaier… her secret? Freezing the fruit! It concentrates the flavours, reduces the cooking time and results in the BEST jam!
If you want to jazz things up, you can create whatever flavour jam you like by simply using the 2/3 ratio. Weigh your fruit then add 2/3 of that weight in sugar – easy! The recipe below is in the smallest amount possible – it makes 2 x 250ml jars – so you’re not left with jam coming out your ears (like I am). But if you want to make more (Christmas gifts!) then simply double or triple it up (but make sure you have a big enough pot!). And if you’re wondering what the lemon seeds do, they add natural pectin to the jam, so you don’t need to stress about adding it when nature makes it, right?
Homemade Strawberry and Vanilla Jam
750g ripe strawberries, washed
Juice of 1 lemon (1/4 cup)
1 tsp lemon seeds
1 small vanilla bean
500g Natura Sugars Golden Light Brown Sugar
Remove the hulls of the strawberries and place them on a baking tray. Freeze until solid – this step intensifies the flavour of the jam as it breaks down the fruit cells. Place the frozen strawberries in a pot then place over a low heat and simmer for 5 minutes stirring occasionally until the strawberries break down. Squeeze the juice from the lemon, keeping the seeds. Place the seeds in a piece of muslin cloth and tie it with string. Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and tie the muslin parcel to the side of the pot so it won’t escape. Increase the heat, bring to the boil and place a sugar thermometer in the pot. Skim any foam from the surface – so you’ll have a clear jam! Once the jam reaches 105°C, it is done. You can also test it by dropping a small amount on a chilled saucer then place it back in the fridge for a few minutes. The jam is ready when it forms a skin. Pour the jam into sterilized jars and allow to cool completely.
TIP To sterilize jars, place the jars and lids (along with a ladle, for filling) on a baking sheet in a preheated oven set to 180°C. Bake them for 5 minutes then fill the hot jars with the hot jam.