Here in New Zealand Christmas is all about strawberries! To my Southern hemisphere mind, Christmas would just not be Christmas without a great big helping of strawberries on Christmas morning (some chocolate dipped, of course) and a strawberry-related dessert of some description. Now I understand this may seem like a very foreign concept to Northern hemisphere readers, whose minds must be about as far away from strawberries as possible, but please… let your mind wander.
We are a little bit spoiled here in New Zealand, we get to pilfer all the lovely wintery Christmas traditions of our English forebears, while making our own new summery traditions to enjoy at the very same time – the best of both worlds! But with enjoying fleeting traditions that come to an end all too soon, comes the need to stretch those enjoyable things out for just a little bit longer, if at all possible. This is when my mind turns to jam: strawberry, apricot and plum, they are all a jar of summer, sitting there on the shelf just waiting for the time they are taken down in winter, opened and enjoyed. For a moment, it’s like summer all over again.
Each December I make this much loved recipe for Strawberry and Vanilla Jam. It’s one from my Victoria Room cookbook. For those not familiar with Sydney’s astoundingly fabulous Victoria Room… let me just say, if you’re a fan of Victoriana like me, this is a must visit!! And strawberry jam with scones really doesn’t have a rival…
For the jam:
2 kg strawberries, washed, hulled and chopped
650gm caster sugar
1 vanilla bean pod, split
Juice of 4 lemons
Add all the ingredients to a pot with a heavy base, and gently begin to heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has all dissolved. Then turn the heat up until the mixture is boiling. You want the jam to be on a ‘gentle boil’ if such a thing exists… still boiling, but not quite so fiercely that the bottom burns. Stir regularly while you prepare your jars (you’ll need to sterilise them). The mixture takes around 30-40 minutes to reach setting point (because strawberries are not particularly high in pectin you won’t get a super strong set with this jam – but the lemons do help to add to the pectin content), keep checking until you reach your desired consistency. While the jam is still hot divide it up between your jars (this recipe makes about 5 standard jars). If you get a good seal it will last for months!