June 24th, 2018
The British love a strawberry. Apparently Cardinal Wolsey had a penchant for wild strawberries with cream. He certainly started something. Tens of thousands of kilos of strawberries are making their way to Wimbledon and similar summer events this month. Just as well it’s been a bumper harvest, despite the cold, wet Spring.
Our Traditional Strawberry Jam is a firm favourite with our customers. I make it with only British strawberries when they come into season in June and keep going until the very end of the season in August. I think the nicest ones come from Scotland, well I would, wouldn’t I? they are so full of flavour and super sweet, a far cry from the bland tasteless things that come from Spain out of season. Further, one does still read about the unscrupulous behaviour of the Spanish strawberry growers, vast tracts of land given over to the growing of the ‘Red Gold’, with the use of illegal deep boreholes to provide the vast quantities of water required and other murky tales of unsustainable practice. A sort of Drain on Spain.
The current strawberry variety I’m using is ‘Sonata’, they are big and fragrant and hold together well in the jam. At the end of the season a big favourite is ‘Malwina’, the fruits are a glossy, deep red with a fabulous scent. George, with his ‘British Strawberries’ van at the Penrith Farmers’ Market will keep a couple of trays for me when he comes in August.
Making this jam is not a simple task. Getting the jam to set while the colour is clear and bright is key. I macerate the fruits in the sugar overnight, it reduces the cooking time and keeps the fruit whole. Get the timing wrong when bottling and the fruit floats to the top. So, I keep stirring constantly when I’ve taken the pan off the heat, watching like a hawk for the point where I can detect the fruits are nicely suspended in the syrup. A top tip gleaned from Mary Berry was to stir in one direction only (I am an anticlockwise person) all the time, never in two directions and, Heaven forfend, never in a figure of eight! This stirring-in-one-direction game gets rid of the froth and scum that can form – it’s difficult to spoon off without losing lots of precious jam.
Yesterday I bought some lovely fresh scones from Rowan at the Abbey Coffee Shop in Shap (they stock our preserves). My chum Lou was up from London and when she arrived in Bampton in the late afternoon, we sat in the warm sun in the garden with a cup of tea, Rowan’s scones spread with the strawberry jam and a lovely dollop of clotted cream. Lou said it was the perfect antidote to the crawling traffic out of London and the frustrations of the motorways. Being in Bampton, here in the beautiful Lowther Valley, with such treats as a cream tea is a simple but delightful pleasure.