Our first strawberries this year, bought for a picnic on the first of May, were handsome, even featured, seductively heart-shaped, deep red things. They turned out to be terribly disappointing, taut, hollow and quite without taste. The berry equivalents of  tucked, toned, tight, plucked, perfect smile hollywood starlets. Strawberries more adapted to hurling than eating. Hurled they were. Then last week, punnets of scarlet fragole favette, reassuringly inconsistent in shape and size, arrived at Testaccio market from Terracina a coastal town south of Rome. Sweet, tender and as lovely as rose bud lips.

We ate these three just so, plump and juicy fine, quickly enough to avoid putting them in the fridge. I like avoiding the fridge. They only needed a tweak to pull out the green crowns and a wipe with a damp cloth – they were far too delicate to be drowned in water. The larger ones were sliced in two. They didn’t need sugar or lemon but Vincenzo had a twist of black pepper over his, insisting it brings out the flavour, something I am yet to be convinced of.

Talking of drowning, if we’d had some very heavy cream I’d have drowned  my third serving of berries in it, but we didn’t. I didn’t suffer its absence, not considering my imminent trip to London and the extremely large strawberry, scone and thick cream tea I intend to polish off with my sister Rosie and her new little girl, my first niece, Beattie.

On Saturday morning, to assuage my present compulsion to put food in jars I bought three kilos of strawberries to make jam. I have long harboured daydreams of having a cupboard full of French kilner and le parfait jars filled with pickles, preserves, compotes, tomatoes for a year, things under oil, things under alcohol. Vincenzo pointed out this larder was not going to suddenly materialise, and that if I wanted it, it was about time I started.

My mum is a great marmalade and jam maker, a very nice habit I took entirely for granted when I was growing up. I, on the other hand, am a very enthusiastic jam, jelly, conserve and preserve novice with a tendency towards stickiness and setting anxiety. I had a beer for lunch and then approached proceedings with a somewhat louche and cavalier attitude. I was working on the principle that even if it didn’t set, a deep red elixir of good strawberries and sugar, edgy with red currants and lemon juice would be delicious, even if it was poured.

Strawberry jam

Adapted from Jill Normans ‘ New Penguin cookery book‘ and my friend Ada.

  • 2kg strawberries
  • 250g punnet of red currants,
  • 1kg Jam/ preserving sugar,
  • juice of 2 large lemons.

Hull the strawberries wipe them with a damp cloth – wet fruit does not a good preserve make. Drain them well and cut them into pieces. Pull the stalks from the red currants and wash them. Layer the fruit in a large pan with sugar, ending with a layer of sugar. Cover with a clean cloth and leave to macerate for 6 hours.

Put 3 small saucers in the freezer for testing later. Put the pan on a low heat and add half the lemon juice. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase the heat, add the rest of the lemon juice and boil – a rolling boil – for 1o minutes. remove from heat

Test by putting a little of the jam onto one of the cold saucers and put it into the fridge for a couple of minutes. Then push the jam with your finger, if it wrinkles it is set. If not, boil for 5 more minutes, remove from heat and then test again. If the jam is still not set, boil for another 5 minutes and test again. It will be set by now!

Wait for 15 minutes then pour the jam – carefully – into warm, clean sterilized jars, cover and seal while the jam is still warm to create a vacuum.

It set. Sour dough toast, lots of butter, sticky, sweet jam with a delightful kick of red currant – my jam, a pot of illy coffee, its scent curling around the flat, imminent arrival of English newspaper and crossword, option of going back to bed at any given moment. All’s well.

A woman in possession of a large quantity of strawberry jam and plans to make more is best advised to make a jam tart. Nothing fussy, a simple not-too-sweet pastry, filled with a puddle of jam. The pastry; 1oog butter, 30g icing sugar, one large egg, 200g flour. To make the pastry; put the butter, icing sugar and egg in a bowl (or food processor) and work together quickly. Blend in the flour and work together into a very soft homogenous paste.

Now working quickly with your fingertips, roughly – this is no time for neatness – push the soft pastry into a pie tin or tart case. The pastry needs to come up high enough to hold a pool of jam, you know the sort of thing I’m sure. Chill the case for 20 minutes or so. Spoon in the jam, making sure it is well within the pastry ridge.

Slide the tart into the oven – the one you have remembered to set at 180° – for 20 minutes or so, the pastry should be golden at the edges and the jam bubbling. Wait at least 20 minutes before slicing into the tart so the jam has time to settle back into some sort of firmness. Eat and Remember how much you like jam tart.

We’re jammin‘ –
To think that jammin’ was a thing of the past;
We’re jammin’,
And I hope this jam is gonna last.



Filed under food, fruit, jams and preserves, pies and tarts, preserves and conserves, recipes

26 responses to “Jammin

  1. suz

    isn’t it just sooo satisfying when the jam sets and all is right with the world?! Altho I have to say that I’m a definite novice and my jam doesn’t always set (funny how when I make it without pectin/gelatin it sets but as soon as I throw in the chemical stuff it stays runny). Even runny jam is yummy tho!

    • rachel

      Suz You are quite right, I did a little ‘my jam set’ jig. I am a convert to preserving sugar – seems to do the trick.

  2. Dea

    Hi Rachel,
    mmm loved reading about your strawberry eating and jam making adventures.
    Strawberry season is quite short here in my part of Sicily, we are on to apricots (from Catania in Mt.Etna’s valley’s) and cherries always from the cooler hills around Mt. Etna I think.
    So good, wish they were organic, but they don’t taste chemically and I soak them in baking soda and water.
    Funny I get the urge to make jams, chutneys and jellies in the autumn or fall as we americans say.
    I experimented with plums in late august last year and peach jam and I scented them with spices, chinese anise or five star spice and musky cloves with pears, and an amazing peach jam scented with crystallised ginger. Good stuff, good times.. .
    ciao bella thanks for the lovely posts.
    Also I am back to being lacto ovo veg and your quiches sans animal meat were just the ticket.
    Its getting hot here and all we can manage are salads, quinoa or fluffed couscous, tomato and tuna salads, and lovely nicoise salads with new potatoes, crisp green beans and boiled egg.
    Soon we’ll be eating mostly fruit, the odd salad and insalata di riso, a brilliant summer cold dish that satisfies the eye and palate. Un saluto affetuoso da Dea a Marsala ciao bella xo

    • rachel

      you sound like a jam and preserving pro…I love the sound of the peach with crystallised ginger. I am keeping it simple this year but have big plans. It is getting hot here too, my iceceam consumption is rising.
      your lovely thoughtful comments are always a treat.

  3. I love the ‘we’re jamming’ bit at the end, and I love how you have taken to pastry with gusto since banishing the fear. That tart looks delicious. Congratulations to Rosie on Beattie, no going back to bed at a moment’s notice for Rosie now though.

    • rachel

      haha so true, she said the same thing. Yes look at me, I am pastry mad, showing off I suppose. Now I just need a kitchen aid like yours !

  4. this is a great post–i’m inspired to follow your lead! if i can control myself–i can’t imagine not eating my way though all the strawberries i find at the market though. i think in europe you are gifted with a better, more generous abundance than i am in toronto? i had strawberries at a market in budapest that have spoiled me for others forever.

    • rachel

      I am behind you – lets go forth and preserve.
      Berries are not always wonderful here, but the ones from terracina are quite special.

  5. Oh, yum, yum, yum. I think I need to pick up some jars and get to canning.

  6. We be jammin’ too!

    strawberry time has left us, sigh,
    but just started picking red, golden, and black raspberries!! blueberries, too.

    berry heaven. we’ll see what all ensues.

  7. We used to make blackberry and strawberry jam when I was a kid. They used to put melted wax on top before sealing the jars. It was the first time I ever used a food mill. Haven’t made jam since. I want to. Right now, though, I just want to make that tart crust and pour a jar of Bonne Mamans cherry preserves into it.

    • rachel

      I lie the sound of the wax on top, sounds very professional and a habit i would like to embrace. BM cherry conserve in a tart sounds pretty damn good.

  8. rebekkaseale


    Everything you do, as always, is so perfect and beautiful. Thank you for posting so faithfully. YUM!!!!!!

  9. I adore strawberry jam. I’ve made it many times but never used preserving sugar for it. I’m gonna give it a try, see the difference.

    • rachel

      I think it made a great difference – even though my jam pro Friend says it is unnessesary and a good jam maker shoudn’t need it.
      let me know how you get on Magda

  10. i love your blog 🙂

  11. I have only made jam once, in Guides when I was about 13. This looks delicious, as always.

    Preserving is one of those skills I look forward to learning when I have more than one cupboard and a small fridge for storing food!


    • rachel

      We made a cake in the brownies and nearly burned down the brownie hut. I left soon after.
      Lack of space compensated by a balcony miss L !!

  12. I am in complete agreement on the first strawberries, Hollywood starlets, and your unset jam principle (even if it was poured…)

  13. Pingback: Ladle into warm, clean jars « rachel eats

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