I keep seeing the last of this season’s strawberries on my local fruit stall – big, fat, juicy red things which demand to be enveloped in meringues and cream before being gleefully devoured. And then there are the runts of the litter; those small, slightly mishapen fruits which don’t look like much but are just as delicious. They may not be picture perfect, but for me, they’re the perfect specimens to boil down into a nice jam.
I first made this Strawberry and Black Pepper jam especially for a jam making session I held at the Northern Quarter Street Party in Manchester last year. Here’s a pro tip for you readers – when you’re making jam for the general public, don’t go out to the Darts the night before with your almost husband and get totally smashed on cider. Or, for that matter, wear a billowy full skirted dress which has a horrible habit of blowing up at the slightest puff of wind. Accidentally revealing your knickers to a street full of people tends to put them off whatever it is you’re making.
Srawberries, balsamic vinegar and black pepper might sound like odd bedfellows, but when combined, they become a vertiable supergroup of flavours. First, strawberries are macerated overnight in some lemon juice, sugar and balsamic vinegar until they turn nice and syrupy. Then, they’re cooked down with some black pepper to create something which will make your tongue tingle and your tastebuds pop with joy. The pepper should just add a little bit of a tingle – it shouldn’t overpower the strawberries, but instead just add another dimension to its overall sweetness. While I wouldn’t blame you for eating this stuff straight out of the pan, if you decide to make it and can it, make sure that your jam jars are sterilised and as clean as can be. Botulism is only good when it’s injected into your face, rather than injested via a sandwich.
Whenever I’ve made this, I’ve taken to plopping tablespoons of this stuff on globs of peanut butter. And if you’re thinking that sounds a little out there, all I’d say in response to that is that don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Trust me on this one. I’m a jam maker.
STRAWBERRY AND BLACK PEPPER JAM (Makes roughly two jars)
Strawberry jam recipe adapted from Sophie Grigson
You will need:
- 500g strawberries
- 500g granulated sugar
- The juice and zest of half a lemon
- Five tablespoons of ground black pepper
- Four tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon of butter
- The day before you wish to make the jam, top and tail the strawberries, before chopping them in half. Cut off any soft or brown spots on them, and discard any berries which have bruises, or are beginning to turn mushy.
- Place the strawberries into a large bowl with 250g of the sugar, two tablespoons of lemon juice and the balsamic vinegar. Thoroughly mix and coat the sliced fruit in the mixture, cover the bowl and leave it in the fridge overnight to macerate.
- The next day, place a saucer into the fridge to chill – you’ll need this when you come to test the setting point of the jam. Pour the strawberries, their juice and any residual sugar juices into a very large pan or preserving pan, remembering that the mixture will rise as it boils. Add the remaining 250g of sugar, the rest of the lemon juice, the butter and the black pepper. Cook the mixture over a medium heat – it should start to bubble and froth quite vigorously. Skim the froth off the top of the pan with a ladle, and make sure that you keep stirring the jam vigorously so it doesn’t stick to the pan and burn.
- After around 25 minutes or so, your jam should be starting to set. To test it, place a small amount on the cold plate and leave for thirty seconds. If it crinkles, then it’s done. If the mixture is looking too thin, cook it for another few minutes to obtain a thicker consistency.
- Pour the jam into clean, sterilised jars. You can do this by either using a ladle, or by cracking out (my new favourite piece of equipment) a jam funnel. Once the jam has been jarred, wipe the excess from around the side. Cover the top of the jam with a wax disc to create a tight seal, before screwing the top onto each jar.
- Sealed jam should keep for up to a year when stored in a cool and dry place. This jam goes very well on toast, when used in a Victoria sponge, or just eaten out of the jar with a large spoon.