I am not a fan of the sweet stuff, unless it's good old milk and cottage-cheese based Bengali sweets. I'm especially averse to sweetness at breakfast. Cornflakes, fancy cereal and jam-on-toast have no place at my table. Indeed, the one time I was gifted a box of rather exotic breakfast cereal, I ate it as dessert. With warm milk and honey. Perfect for lulling you to blissful sleep.
Unfortunately, I don't always have sole and full control over my table. Occasionally, I'm forced to share it with people, and these people take to sugary breakfasts like a parched duck to water. And gradually, in their company, I've learnt to appreciate the delights of such easily-made meals as a glass of milk and homemade fruit-jam on toast.Only, of course, I'm lactose intolerant, so the milk had to go. And the jam-toast comes after my usual savoury breakfast, as a sort of sweet-afters, because there's no way I'm actually breaking fast with a mouthful of sugar.
So then, since it's strawberry season in the northern hemisphere, and strawberries make my favourite kind of jam -- tart, yet sweet, with a refreshing, wake-up-sleepyhead! after-tase -- here's the picturebook for an easy, three-step, homemade strawberry jam! Say goodbye to the preservatives and plastic packets, people!
NOTE: Since strawberries are far from abundant where I now live, I had a friend make me this batch. The shots are from his kitchen.
That's a kilo of strawberries, three large lemons, mint/pudina leaves, and sugar.
Step 1: Clean the leaves, roughly grind them, simmer the coarse paste in hot water in a covered saucepan, drain the infusion, and cool it.
Step 2: Add the cleaned and diced strawberries to a thick-bottomed wok or saucepan (this one's cast iron). Stir as the juices release, and simultaneously mash the softening fruit, so there are no large chunks in the jam.
Step 3: When most of the strawberries are mashed into a more or less even consistency, raise the heat to medium-high. Let the fruit bubble. When it does, add 2 cups of sugar. Keep stirring till it dissolves. Then, add the juice of two lemons. Fold it in well. Let cook for five minutes.
Now, taste. Take your time. Blow on the spoon or the edge of the spatula, wherever you test-taste rests, and let it cool till you touch your tongue to it. No point risking your tastebuds. Then, carefully savour the flavour. It is too tart? Is it too sweet? For me, two cups of sugar is usually a little more than enough, but you might like your jam sweeter. Depending upon personal preference, add sugar or lemon juice. When you're happy with the flavour, turn the heat back up. My friend used a candy thermometer (such fancy gadgets these Western kitchens have, eh?) to see if the temp is stabilised at 100C. That's apparently the temp. to aim for, if you want your jam to set*. Let it do the bubbly-boil at this temp. for about ten or twelve minutes.
If you like, to this mass, you can now add a handful of strawberries, diced. It'll give a certain chunky, fresh tartness to your jam :-)
Step 4: Turn off the heat. Let the hot jam cool a little -- say about ten minutes. Then, pour the mint extract into it, and mix thoroughly, and very quickly. Transfer the jam to clean mason jars, leaving about two inches of air at the top. Seal the jars. My great aunt said it's a good idea to put the mason jars in a jolshora -- or a water-bath -- before you scoop the jam into it, but I've done it without the jolshora, and my jar hasn't exploded, so I suppose you could skip if you like. Put the jars straight into the fridge!
Homemade strawberry mint jam on toast. As delicious as it gets!
This basic recipe works equally well for other berries and fruits, but use the mint judiciously. It's not a flavour that goes well with everything. But before the summer's over, do give your own jam a try. It's easy, relatively quick, and makes for lovely and thoughtful gifts :-)
*About setting though, be warned. Organic strawberry jam will never achieve a wobbly, jelly-like consistency unless you add things to it you probably shouldn't be feeding yourself. A good way of testing for setting, my friend said, is to put a plat in the fridge, then drop a teaspoon of bubbling jam on this plate, and put it back in the fridge. If it sets in a minute, your jam is done! Ta-daaa! If not, let it boil till it does. Twelve to fifteen minutes does it.