Bonfire Night & Strawberries

We’ve been picking oodles of strawberries for the last few days with a few new beds in the garden since last year.  Runners from my circle strawberries were taken and planted further down the garden.  This year, after 2 years of fruiting, the parent plants will come out of my circle bed and move elsewhere.  Freshly ripened strawberries have slugs and birds (especially innocent looking blackbirds) as predators.  We almost have to pick them underripe in order to secure the perfect strawberry – something of a rarity here.  But imperfect strawberries make great jam…..or so I thought.  Having consulted with Darina I find that they should be perfect in order to help the setting of the jam.  Jamie’s recipe may be the one then – read on.

I had a lovely group in for a cooking workshop yesterday who requested strawberries & cream for dessert – just the time of year!  Even after feeding 14 there was enough to make 10 pots of jam while waiting for the lighting of the bonfire.  Every year on the 23rd of June (shortest night of the year apparently – not sure how this works with 21st June, longest day of the year!) we continue with the tradition of a bonfire.  It is now the only day one is allowed to light an outdoor fire on this island.

My little brother and sister celebrate their birthday every bonfire night and this year they turned 16!  Not so little anymore since the boy towers a head over me – scary hugs. We generally have a BBQ and later light a bonfire.  The head gardener built a fantastic BBQ in a bath and we’re thinking of making it a permanent feature in the garden.

For afters I picked the best strawberries and dipped them in dark chocolate.  A delicious, satisfying little treat.

I do find it hard to pull myself away from the kitchen once I’m in it… up after the days workshop; people visit and stay for a coffee, eat some leftovers and have chats. Then there’s gluts of fruit to deal with……

Jam – very sweet.  Equal quantities of sugar to fruit.  Required for preservation.  I often recommend good quality, low sugar jam to my clients.  And those out there are generally sweetened with a concentrated fruit syrup like grape or apple. The other day flicking through one of Jamie Oliver’s books I came across a low sugar strawberry jam.  It’s perfect for making small quantities as it doesn’t take very long or keep very long so there’s no point in having too much of it.  It’s also fun to make because you take 1kg strawberries with 135g sugar and get your hands in and squish the whole lot together before boiling it for 20-30 minutes.

Crushing strawberries

For me this made a very blushing pink jam that I really like because it’s more fruity than sweet.  Last night, however, I made the old fashioned jam with equal quantities of sugar because these 10 jars may hang around for a while and I want it to keep.  I squeezed in the juice of 2 lemons with 1.6kg hulled, chopped strawberries & 1.6kg sugar and simmered for half an hour or so. Strawberries don’t have much natural pectin so the jam is difficult to set – lemon juice is supposed to help.  Maybe I didn’t put enough in or I didn’t simmer for long enough but my jam is still pretty runny with nice big lumps of strawberries.   I consulted with Darina Allen and she gives a similar recipe but lets the fruit, lemon juice and sugar stand overnight together before cooking at all – an accidental finding that is supposed to improve the setting of the jam!  Another recipe includes red currant juice instead of lemon juice.  So there’s a couple of tips from a real master.  For both jams you need to skim off any foam that rises to the top every 5 minutes or so.  (This side offering is delicious stirred into natural yogurt for breakfast as I found out this morning).  And of course sterilise your jars – I followed the old drill my mother taught me.  Wash old jars in lots of hot soapy water, rinse and dry them in a hot oven. Pour in the hot jam and seal.

This is not a great photo of my jam but you might see that my strawberries are suspended in the liquid and have risen to the top of the jar – not ideal for sale but perfect to enjoy in the comfort of your own home.

Luckily the rain held off until today so we got to enjoy a little bonfire when the sun went down.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Valerie on June 24, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    It was a great night with lots of fun, chat and so great to meet all the family in one go.
    The food was wonderful and I really enjoyed the chocolate strawberries and birthday cakes. The party went on for long after I went home – I could hear the music playing till after one am and when I let my dog out at 4am there was plenty of chat still in the air. I hope they all enjoyed it. They were lovely young people and though I heard them so late the sound was in no way annoying or too loud. (My ‘holiday home’ was just about 150 metres from the camp!) Well done to all the organisers and cooks, another feather in the Brown hat


  2. Thanks Valerie! I believe the music was heard down the road at Granny Hunts too. Nothing like a big fire to keep people out…..


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