While not necessarily as excellent as those from the farm near Portland, strawberries abound in Melbourne throughout the year. As winter approaches we are heading towards the end of the Victorian strawberry season though. For those who cannot wait for the return of local summer berries, there is a consistent product from Western Australia and Queensland available in our markets. Maintaining a stock of homemade strawberry jam therefore is not so difficult and affords one of those luxuries you simply cannot buy.
Choose smaller, ripe (not over ripe) fruit when making jam. Barely ripe strawberries have little enough pectin as it is, making it difficult to have the jam set well. The recipe below is adapted from Stephanie Alexander’s “Quick Strawberry Jam”, a recipe inherited from her grandmother. This receipt produces a deliciously fragrant and exquisitely beautiful jam of a transparent, rose coloured fluid through which the berries are suspended. The nature of the light setting makes it ideal for pouring on pancakes with cream. It also works famously for a Devonshire Tea or even on a more humble piece of bread and butter. There is no excuse for not having a go at this simple recipe and maintaining your own store of this exceptional preserve. I guarantee it will give you and those you share it with a great deal of pleasure.
Quick Strawberry Jam
- 500g small strawberries
- 600g sugar
- A squeeze of lemon juice — about 2 tablespoons
- Ideally do not wash the fruit, rather wipe the berries clean with a clean, damp kitchen towel and then remove the green stems.
- If the strawberries are large, cut them in half or quarters — these pieces will not reduce in size significantly in the cooking process
- Place the berries into a stainless steel or enamelled cast-iron saucepan or a copper preserving pan and gently cook them uncovered for 15 minutes (no water used)
- Add sugar and lemon juice, stirring until the sugar has dissolved
- Increase the heat and boil rapidly for 10 – 15 minutes until the jam begins to set. If you have a candy thermometer, the temperature is to reach 107C. Otherwise a simple test is to drop a spoonful of the mix onto a chilled plate and watch to see if it begins to set. Taste the jam — careful not to burn yourself. It is so delicious you won’t really care if sets or not — it is a success already.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir the contents allowing the jam to cool a little
- Using a metal spoon or ladle, divide the fruit and liquid between hot, sterilized jars and seal
I am challenged by the idea of writing about strawberry jam without writing also about the best vehicle to consume it — pancakes. I have been meaning to write about making pancakes for sometime now. For years I have missed the glaringly obvious Shrove Tuesday opportunity for February publications, perhaps because there is so much fresh produce to write about in the Summertime.
Growing up in a large family, Tea on Sunday was a light and casual affair that followed the extravagances of Sunday Lunch. In those days we were all keen on getting a meal out of the way to settle down in front of the weekly family movie screened on “Disneyland”. How my mother must have groaned that anyone wanted anything to eat at all. Pancakes were often the Bill of Fare for the evening. They remain on our menu some forty years later. A family favourite for a lazy Sunday evening and the perfect tonic for the excesses of the weekend.
Pancakes create a minimum of mess and need be no fuss to make. I have never understood therefore why anyone would purchase those powdered concoctions, allegedly of eggs, flour and milk that you are required to add water to and shake in the bottle. What after all is so complicated about digging out your own milk, flour and eggs and whizzing them through the blender or whisking them together in a bowl?
The recipe given below is simple enough for an idle 10 year old if you are lucky enough to have one handy. It is adapted from Elizabeth David’s recipe for pancakes in “Summer Cooking”. The combination of full cream milk, water and the curious addition of olive oil creates the loveliest, laciest pancakes that you can imagine. Make the mixture a few hours in advance, cover and refrigerate before using. I store it in a jug for easy pouring into the pan. The quantities given are easily doubled and allow for the occasional pancake for breakfast too.
I am aware that all sorts of tricks abound for setting aside cooked pancakes until you have an almighty stack of them. I encourage you though to eat these pancakes straight from the pan for maximum pleasure. Either organize for someone to take charge of the pan or ask that everyone get up and cook their own. Do not be dismayed if the first pancake or two does not work out so well. I have never understood why this is so but I suspect it may have something to do with either the temperature of the pan being too low or simply a lack of confidence on the part of the cook. Be assured that they improve with each attempt.
Two essential implements for making pancakes are a well balanced fry pan, ideally 15 – 20cm in diameter and a slim styled (non-perforated) spatula made of silicone or stainless steel. To prevent the pancakes from sticking to the bottom of the pan, it is critical that you gently heat the pan first and allow the butter to melt and foam before you add the batter. It is also important that you only half fill the pan with batter and carefully manoeuvre it to allow the liquid to spread. Gently lift the edges as they form, tilt the pan and allow any liquid to run into spaces created.
Ingredients Serves 2 – 4
- 120g Plain Flour
- 1 Teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 Egg
- 125ml Full Cream Milk
- 125 ml Water
- Butter for Cooking
- Jam and Cream for serving
Method - To make the mix
- Place the ingredients in listed order into a blender and blitz for about 1 minute.
- Cover and leave to stand in the refrigerator for 2 – 3 hours
To cook the pancakes
- Heat the pan over moderate heat for about a minute
- Drop in about 1/2 teaspoon butter and swirl the pan as the butter melts, covering the base of the pan
- Pour or ladle some batter into the pan, it should initially cover about half the base, swirl to spread the mix evenly. Lift the edges and tilt the mixture into the space created, keep doing this until all the liquid has set.
- After about a minute, the edges begin to colour and the pancake has begun to brown underneath. You can peek to see by lifting a corner of the edge
- Using a fine spatula, flip the pancake to finish cooking on the other side.
- Place the cooked pancake on a plate, spoon over strawberry jam and cream. Enjoy in moderation