Recipe: Never-fail summer fruit preserves
This is the time of the year when folk memory tells me I should be busy squirrelling away all the wonderful fruits and berries of high summer and filling the larder with jars of ruby-coloured jam to add a touch of summer sparkle to autumn and winter breakfasts.
I'm not sure if my great great-grandmother made jam in the Pale of Settlement, but until recently jam-making and preserving was very much part of British Jewish cuisine - Florence Greenberg devotes 24 pages to it as late as the 1976 edition.
I was always reluctant make jam since it always seemed hugely time-consuming with unreliable results. Now, however, the picture has changed thanks to "jam sugar" (not to be confused with preserving sugar). Jam sugar, available at supermarkets, comes with its own "built-in" apple pectin that guarantees a perfect set in just four minutes' boiling time.
Makes 1.6 kg (4 lb). Store in a cool cupboard or fridge. If small strawberries are not available, cut larger fruit into 2 or 3 pieces.
900 g (2 lb) small, ripe strawberries, hulled
1 kg pack jam sugar with pectin
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
nut of butter or margarine
For raspberry, loganberry or tayberry preserves, use 900g (2 lb) of fruit to 1 kg jam sugar, but omit the lemon juice.
● Put the sugar into a glass bowl and heat on full power for 2-4 minutes in the microwave or 20 minutes or in a very low oven, 140°C, 275°F, Gas 1.
● Wash and rinse four 450g
(1 lb) jam jars with rubber rings inset in the lid, then leave upside down in the oven while the sugar is warming (don't heat the lids).
● Using an 4.5 litre (8 pint) heavy soup pan, add the strawberries and hot sugar, sprinkle with the lemon juice and start stirring with a large wooden spoon over gentle heat. The sugar will gradually dissolve as the juice oozes out of the fruit.
● Keep on stirring until the sugar has completely melted: do not let it boil at this point or the sugar may crystallise into tiny lumps. To test if the sugar has melted completely, take a teaspoon of the liquid and carefully feel it to ensure it is completely smooth and no graininess can be felt.
● Now add the butter or margarine (this reduces foaming) and keep on stirring until the jam is boiling so fiercely that the bubbles can't be stirred out. Set the timer for 4 minutes exactly, and stir occasionally to prevent the jam catching on the bottom.
● As soon as the time is up, remove immediately from the heat. Leave the jam to stand for 20 minutes or until a light skin forms on top (this resting period ensures that the fruit will be evenly distributed right through the jar).
● Now is the time to ladle the jam into the jars, done most quickly and cleanly through a metal jam funnel. Immediately put on the lids, screwing down as firmly as possible (there is no need to top the jam with a greaseproof disc).
● Allow to go quite cold (preferably overnight), then store. Once opened, store in the fridge.