18 January 2008

In a jam

I've always found mindless repetition the panacea to the troubles that weight my mind. Washing dishes, polishing shoes, even alphabetising my shelves let my hands busy away, and my mind consider scenarios and reasonings, break through writer's block or even do simply nothing...to temporarily attain a much-needed respite from life's woes and stresses.

Easy and attainable therapy, I think.

A few months ago when I found myself as impotent in the kitchen as a eunuch in the Playboy Mansion, I turned to the restorative powers of automatic action. I tried favourite recipes--brownies, cakes--but the disappointing results added to my grief. It was late summer-early autumn when the markets were bursting with the last of hot season berries. Even though I could freeze them for later consumption, I felt as though I was admitting culinary defeat at a time when I should have been exploring my scullery's capabilities.

I suppose in such times it's easy to dwell on what one ought to do, as opposed to what one wants to do. This time, the ought and want melded into what became a bit of a tiger: instead of letting the last of Ontario's strawberry crop remain in their punnets for someone else more capable than I to handle, I bought the last remaining fruit and whisked them home to ponder their fates.

It had been years since I made jam or preserves of any kind. In fact the last bit of canning I did was in my last year at uni when I made some sweet and sour apple chutney as Christmas prezzies. Why on Earth I decided to get into jam-making escapes me. Perhaps it was a yearning to be part of something that was at once intimate and grand. Intimate because it happens in my kitchen with one other (in my case, Dear Little Mummy); grand because it carries both a sense of occasion (getting all the gear ready) and the knowledge that hundreds of other households also put away glinting bottles of sweet preserves.

After reviewing my books and my mother's clippings, I decided on Nigella's version for three reasons: it didn't use bought pectin; it offered the romantic potential of suspended berries visible through the jars' glass walls, and it used balsamic vinegar.

Quite honestly, I don't know how many bottles we made that weekend. Several batches, anyhow. It was easy and filled the kitchen with a heady almost candy-like aroma. Let's not overlook the decidedly therapeutic benefits of stirring and skimming.

The end results were jars filled with garnet jewels--not too sweet and nicely set. Many bottles were given as appreciation gifts to friends who helped me through these past few months, but between Mummy and I we held back about half a dozen bottles. Mine are squirrelled away and consumed carefully--sometimes on buttered toast or scones, sometimes on vanilla beaned ice cream, sometimes just on its own.

It will be months until we get such beautiful strawberries again.

Strawberry Jam
from Nigella Lawson's How To Be a Domestic Goddess

675g hulled strawberries (some can be chopped, others can be left whole)
700g sugar
2Tbsp lemon juice
1tsp balsamic vinegar

Sterilise four 200 ml jars and place a saucer in the freezer.

Put all the ingredients in a wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon, until all the fruit is coated.

Put the pan on low heat and bring the berries to a boil, stirring occasionally. When it comes to a boil, let it blurble away for about eight minutes, and skim the froth off the top.

Check its set after five minutes and again every five minutes or so. To do this, put a bit of the jam on the saucer, let the jam cool a bit and give it a bit of a push with your finger. If it wrinkles and you can make a line with your finger, it's probably good to go (think of how you test custard using a wooden spoon).

Decant into sterilised jars.



K and S said...

this sounds delicious, will have to try it soon :)

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Love the jam! That is beautiful.
Interesting about the repetition thing. I was just telling someone about how I can have wonderful conversations with myself swimming.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Beautiful jam! One question: how are you storing the finished product? Did you process in a water bath, or store in the freezer or fridge?

glamah16 said...

I need to get out my old canning stuff this year. I've been playing around with some ideas.

Judi said...

Nice to have you back! I've always been a reader but never commented until now. I've missed your site!

Jenny said...

The jam looks lovely, such a brilliant color.

Annemarie said...

It is indeed a visual treat before it becomes a taste one. Little jewels to get you through the winter, until summer brings some new edible rubies.

KellytheCulinarian said...

Great recipe! I just got a stand mixer and I've been baking quite a bit. This would be a great pair to some of my scone recipes.

Shaun said...

Jasmine ~ Last year I was supposed to venture into the world of preserves but immersed in the world of academia, I feared the process would be more stress than I wanted to handle. You make it sound so simple as does Nigella.

I'm not going to do any of those clear jellies where one suspends a muslin-cloth filled with pulp and all over a pot (to prevent a cloudy result, I believe, for marmalade and crab-apple jelly). This, however, I might try now that strawberries are in season here.

Then again, maybe next year. I'll let you know if I dare to attempt jam-making.

Hello. said...

Love this post. The 'eunuch in the Playboy Mansion' comment just made me choke on my tea!! Perhaps take a look at a wonderful little book called 'Blue Jelly: Love Lost & the Lessons of Canning'...I think you may relate. XO

Naomi Devlin said...

Beautiful jam and a gorgeously written post. I still have a few carrier bags of sloes in the freezer, waiting patiently for some gin or maybe to be turned into jelly?

Glad you remembered to keep some for yourself.


Helene said...

Beautiful writing! The jam is wonderful. I have really strong memories of my mother's jams days, the aroma was indeed intoxicating!

Deeba PAB said...

Lovely jam & well written. Just a coincidence but I made tangerine marmalade half an hour ago! Will post it once I get rid of the edwards scissorhand feeling in my arm...have been snipping away the peels to glory! Thanks for stopping by my blog Jasmine.
BTW Beelzebub is very sweet!LOL

jasmine said...

Hello all

Kat, Glamah16, Kelly -- very easy. I figure if I can do it, anyone can

Tanna -- I'd not pondered it until a few years ago when a writer friend of mine mentioned how therapeutic mindless tasks are to working through writer's block.

Lydia -- Good questions. Processed in a water bath. The ones I have are kept in the fridge, just in case. I believe the ones that aren't in my fridge no longer exist.

Judi -- Thanks and congratulations for delurking :)

Quellia, Annemarie, Tartelette -- I wish I could have gotten a better picture of the finished bottle--it's the most amazing colour of red.

Shaun my darling -- you must try this recipe. It's a good one when you need a break from your books.

Not Scarlett -- glad you liked that line and thanks for the book suggestion. I'll keep my eyes out for it.

Naomi -- I confess...I'd go for the gin.

Passionate Baker -- I was seriously considering making some marmelade this autumn but I never got around to it.