28 September 2012

Strawberry Jam

Strawberries are in season in Perth. Last weekend we bought two trays (yes, TRAYS) from the farmers' markets and set about our first ever effort at making strawberry jam.

Pic taken by Eva. She's three. I'm impressed.

I liked the idea of making our own jam using bulk seasonal fruit. It was my idea, but Tyson did three quarters of the actual work.

I am blogging about this episode mostly because it was so much fun taking photographs of huge quantities of bright red strawberries. Possibly the only reason one might install a white plastic sink in a kitchen is because it looks good when full of big ripe strawberries.

We bought 7.5kg of strawberries, which once ends were removed and we had eaten quite a few put 6kg of fruit into the pot. Plus 1kg jam setting sugar, 6kg regular sugar and juice of six lemons.

The lemon rinds were cooked in the jam until it started boiling.

After standing at the stove stirring the simmering pot for quite a long time, Tyson told me I should write on this blog that having babies has addled my brain. I think I should translate that as: we are not making strawberry jam again.

Never mind, we have enough from this batch to last us about two years. Final quantity was around 11 litres.

It tastes delicious, even though it is a little runny. It was also good as an icecream topping - hot, straight from the pot.

Initial Time: About 4 hours. About half of this was preparation (washing & chopping fruit, squeezing lemons, sterilising jars, etc) and the other half cooking time. If the pot had not been quite so full we would not have needed to supervise it so closely to prevent it boiling over.

Initial Cost: We picked up two trays of strawberries for $18 (total). Sugar cost another $16. Jars were all recycled containers. As we forgot to pick up lemons from Grandma's we did spend $6 on lemons, but if we had been a tiny bit less forgetful they would have been free.

To purchase 11 litres of jam would cost, I estimate, around $70. If it was quality gourmet jam that figure could double. Making it ourselves is a substantial cost saving, even with over-priced lemons. I have begun giving jars of jam away to people who visit our house, though, so we are not really going to come out vastly ahead.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: Zero. This was a once-off.

Impact: For ages I have had a pet peeve about sustainability blogs that are basically recipe sites, and now here I am writing two blog posts in a row about food. I can only say as I did with the plums: I KNOW this is not saving the planet, but it is one tiny tiny step. It is about shifting our thinking to include more than convenience and price when considering food.

Food sustainability IS an important issue - for reasons neatly summarised at this website. As far as I can tell, jam available in supermarkets in Western Australia is all imported - either from other parts of Australia or from overseas - although smaller outlets probably market the few local gourmet lines. When we committed to buying only WA cheese I discussed issues of sustainability for food transported to Perth, and they apply again here.

There is a certain trendy romance among 'sustainabilty types' (am I one of these?!) about getting into preserving seasonal foods. My mum alludes to another side of the story (and I preface by saying this is all my slightly fuzzy recollection of her stories which I have not checked with her. Mum - feel free to use the comments section to make amendments!). She grew up in rural Victoria, and her grandfather was an orchardist outside Melbourne. He planted a small orchard in their Wimmera backyard to ensure his daughter and her family always had fresh fruit, and they had it in abundance. He would also periodically buy up seasonal fruit that was available cheap at the Victoria Markets (where he sold his own produce) and put a crate of whatever was going on the train to mum's family. What did a rural family of the 1950s do with all this fruit? Preserve it, in a multitude of ways. While there were obviously many happy times shared over fruit preserving, it was not romantic or trendy. It was laborious work, in a hot kitchen, often through hot summer days (so many fruits are in season in summer!). The fruit, not the workers, chose the time of the labours. It was the women who did the work, including my mum and her three sisters. 

Whatever my concerns about unsustainable food practices, over-packaging, transport, preservatives, etc etc, I must remember that convenience is not always a dirty word. Mass production frees me to choose what I want to spend hours on. Women in particular are able to make all sorts of choices my mum and especially my gran could not make. If she were alive today I would hope my gran would never need to bottle another fresh fruit again - and that she might forgive the runnyness of my first over-ambitious attempt to do it myself.


  1. 'that convenience is not always a dirty word' Hear Hear!

    We are lucky enough to have many choices available when it comes to living sustainably and my sustainable life (or yours or anyone's) can be different to others. I imagine my grandmother or great grandmother would probably be horrified if I choose to spend my time in the kitchen preserving instead of embracing the opportunities available to me.

  2. Whee I've finally done it and made some strawberry jam myself. Finding our local farmers' market a while back certainly helped!


    1. ...and very fine jam it is, too, thanks for the taste! Impressively well set.

  3. Its worth noting though that sustainable and organic farming is only a single slice of the pie. Canning not only gives us the ability to save what we produce so our energy isn't wasted, but is a way of moving toward freedom from wasteful transportation of foods. When you say that this is one tiny step, I'd argue that it may be a small step but it's an important one. When people see, through posts like this, that a step away from convenience in favor of self-sufficiency and environmental sustainability can bring great economic and gastronomical rewards, it makes a difference.

    By the way, gosh darn looking at that made my mouth water.

  4. Well here we are nearing the end of 2019 and I'm still loosing the battle of SLUGS verses me re the strawberry patch, I’ve even resorted to eating the blessed berry only half rips as slippery slugs only devour the PERFECTLY ripened fruits bother it. I have put pine needles down as mulch seems the slugs love that too!
    Perhaps one should keep slugs as pets