Strawberry season is almost over here in India. In other parts of the world, Strawberries are just about popping up. If you have any strawberries (preferably those grown locally or indigenously) in the market, get them. Make some jam at home.
When I was in fourth grade, my parents had taken me to a farm that grew strawberries and sold house made preserves. I don't remember much of the farm visit or how the farm looked but it couldn't have been anything less than stunning. Any farm that plays music for its plants is obviously no ordinary farm. It had to be something to make an impression on my 9 year old mind. Just read what The Hindu has to say about it. However, I do remember their strawberry conserve. And I remember it so vividly, that I could have eaten it yesterday and not a decade back.
It came in large clear glass jars that used to be filled to the top. I saw it as a coveted addition to my lunch, and rationed as if I could make it last forever. The barely set red syrup used to be full of whole strawberries - making it fun to scoop out the biggest, juiciest strawberry from the jar into the plate. The strawberries themselves - they were soft, but didn't turn straight to mush when you ate, they were sweet but pleasantly acidic at the same time. They were strawberries, but they were something more. They probably only lacked gold dust.
The memory of that conserve meant that I compared it with every other fruit preserve I have eaten since. And never found one to be the same. Last year, I decided that the best way to find that elusive taste would be to try and replicate it myself. So I went and hauled 2 kilos (that's 4lbs) of the berries all the way from Panchgani only to realise 2 days later that I ate most of the fruit as it is. I might have inhaled the fruit probably. I don't know how that happened. Then I spent my entire time in a 40 degree kitchen the entire spring and by the time I came out, the strawberries were all but gone. So this year, when the strawberry festival rolled around, I knew what I had to do.
A conserve is not the same as jam. It's made with whole fruit, and is cooked for a very short period of time. There is no added pectin or other gelling agent in a conserve, it relies on any natural pectin that's in the fruit, so a conserve is always soft set where the fruit is suspended in the cooking syrup.
Adapted from Rachel Allen Bake! and from the Guardian
I am calling this a jam only because most recipes call it jam. As I see it, it's not exactly a conserve, and it's not exactly a jam. Its thicker than a conserve but not as set as a jam. It's has both halved and whole strawberries.
You need -
750 gm strawberries - a mix of very ripe and sightly under ripe is what i used
350 gm granular sugar
Juice of 2-3 juicy lemons
To make the jam -
1. Hull the strawberries - this means that you need to remove the tops with the leaves. You can either use a fancy tool or just as easily use a sharp serrated knife or paring knife. Halve a few strawberries, but you can leave them all whole if you prefer.
2. Combine all three in a deep bottom saucepan, and set on low heat until all the sugar melts and starts bubbling. When the sugar has melted, boil the conserve for about 15 minutes, stirring continuously, until the syrup starts to thicken. The more you cook the mixture, the thicker it'll get, with the strawberries becoming softer and softer.
3. Let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Pour it into clean glass jars of your choice and cover the top with a clean tea towel until the mixture cools completely. Store in the refrigerator. Make sure the lid is tightly set on the jar every time!