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.
from Nigella Lawson's How To Be a Domestic Goddess
675g hulled strawberries (some can be chopped, others can be left whole)
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.