Strawberry & redcurrant jam

The first harvests of the year are coming, and it’s a mixed bag. The sweetpeas and soft fruit are abundant – redcurrants and strawberries, with the promise of blackcurrants and blueberries to come – but the greens and cut flowers are far from promising. Instead of the armfuls of greens that I’ve gathered in previous years, this summer the spinach has bolted before it’s reached 6 inches high, most of the lettuce has failed and the rocket is already in flower. The cosmos is tiny and the sunflowers leggy!

I raised our seedlings in the ‘sun room’ this year to make my life easier, but perhaps they would have been better off beginning life in the greenhouse….or perhaps it’s the lack of proper horse poo from Chappers’ field that’s the problem (we didn’t get any this year, partly because I was laid low with morning sickness from January to March, partly because it’s such a huge effort). But I’ve learnt that, when allotmenting, I have to put my expectations to one side: we both work (more than) full-time, I’m with child, we can’t use hosepipes, it gets cold then hot then windy. I can fuss and preen over a plant and it can fail, and the things that I ignore can yield extraordinary amounts. Plus not all is lost: the allotment can chuck up surprises and it may still all come good.

In the meantime, the first sweetpeas of the year are vivid and fragrant.

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First pick of sweetpeas

A few weeks ago I picked my first two strawberries, sweet and juicy, and I’m now collecting several punnets a week. They’re better macerated or turned into compote than eaten raw – on their own they have a curiously bitter aftertaste and don’t last longer than a day – but I can’t complain about the quantities.

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From a tiny start we now have a crescendo of strawberries!

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Yesterday’s picking of broadbeans, strawberries and redcurrants

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90 minutes later, beans are podded and fruit is prepped

In Cornwall last week I had a brilliant redcurrant and raspberry jam with my scone and cream. I’m not a massive jam lover, but this one was memorable – the sharp redcurrants cut through the insanely sweet raspberries and balanced it all out. I presume that the same effect could be had by matching redcurrants with other sweet berries and so, with all these strawberries, there was one obvious bit of summer cooking to be done: Strawberry & redcurrant jam it is!

First, place 700g granulated or preserving sugar into a bowl and pop into a low oven (160c) for ten minutes to heat up.

Next, warm 500g halved (or quartered if they’re massive) strawberries and 225g redcurrants into a preserving pan, and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Lots of liquid will come out of the fruit and the berries will soften.

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Place strawberries and redcurrants in a preserving pan and bring to a simmer

When you’ve got a soft liquidy mass, add the juice of one lemon, another 375g strawberries, 125g redcurrants and the sugar. Adding the fruit in two parts means you get nice chunky lumps in the finished jam. Stir over a low heat until the sugar has totally dissolved, and then bring to a boil. Have a jam thermometer ready!

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Add lemon juice, sugar and the remaining fruit – heat gently to dissolve the sugar

As the jam boils, spoon off any foamy scum that comes to the top. Be careful at this stage as the jam is hot hot hot, and will bubble up alarmingly in the pan.

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Bring to the boil and be sure to spoon off any foam that rise to the surface

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Cook until the jam reaches about 110c

Once the jam has reached 110c turn off the heat and leave the jam to stand for ten minutes or so. At this point prepare the jam jars: wash in soapy water, rinse, then heat in a hot oven (200c) until dry. Always put hot jam into hot jars, else the glass may crack. I use a jam funnel to transfer the jam to the jars, but you could use a spoon (if so expect it to be messy). Cover the jars with wax discs and cellophane tops, then leave to cool completely.

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Transfer the jam into warm sterilised jam jars, cover then leave to cool

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Strawberry & redcurrant jam!

And behold, you have strawberry and redcurrant jam! A taste of June on the allotment.

Strawberry & redcurrant jam
Recipe adapted from Good Housekeeping

700g granulated or preserving sugar

875g strawberries, hulled and halved

350g redcurrants, stripped from their stalks

Juice of 1 lemon

You’ll also need a preserving pan or big stock pot, jam thermometer, a funnel, four jam jars and lids.

Warm the sugar in the oven (160c) for about ten minutes. Place 500g strawberries and 225g redcurrants in the preserving pan over a low heat and cook until the juice runs and the berries soften.

Add the remaining strawberries and redcurrants, lemon juice and sugar to the pan. Stir and cook over a low heat until the sugar is totally dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook until the mixture reaches 110c, about 20 minutes. Spoon off any foamy scum that comes to the top. Once the jam has come to temperature, turn off the heat and leave to cool slightly.

Whilst the jam is cooling prepare the jars: wash in hot soapy water, rinse, then dry in a hot oven (200c). Using a jam funnel, spoon the jam into the warmed jars, cover with waxed discs and cellophane tops, then leave to cool completely before eating.

Raspberry almond swiss roll

We had friends for lunch on Sunday, which is an excuse for me to make a scrummy pudding. Raspberry pavlova, to be precise, which I drizzled with a soft-set jammy compote using bags of berries that are still lurking in the freezer from last summer. The pavlova was great – it’s a distant memory now – but the bowl of leftover ‘jam’ remains. What to do?

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A bowl of leftover jammy-compote. What to do?

The answer,  *obviously!*, is to whip up a swiss roll. So between juggling phone calls and press releases and eshots this morning, that’s just what I did. I suppose there are some great benefits from working at home, and the ability to bake on a whim is one of them.

Once you’ve got your technique down, making a swiss roll is easy as pie. Actually, it’s LOADS easier than pie as all you need are eggs, caster sugar, flour and jam. Plus a few flavourings, if you want. Start by lining a swiss roll tin with greaseproof paper, and preheat the oven to 175c (fan).

Next, using an electric whisk, beat the eggs, vanilla and sugar together into submission. About four or five minutes should do it – they need to be thick, fluffy, mousse-like and able to hold their shape, like this:

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Beat the eggs and sugar into submission. About four or five minutes should do it.

Then gently sift and fold your flour into the eggs, a little at a time. Spread the lot into your prepared tin, being careful not to knock the air out of your lovingly whisked sponge, and scatter a few flaked almonds on the top.

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Spread the mixture into the prepared tin and scatter with almonds

Bake for 10 minutes but keep an eye on it – it might need two or three minutes longer in the oven. It needs to be just set, springy to the touch and slightly golden, but not over-done as a crispy sponge simply won’t roll. Whilst it’s cooking, prepare your rolling surface: a sheet of baking parchment sprinkled with caster sugar. I like to rest it on a tea towel, but that’s not essential.

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Prep for the roll! Get a sheet of baking parchment and sprinkle it with sugar.

When the sponge is cooked, immediately invert it onto your prepared paper. If the sides are crispy, trim them off (I didn’t trim these but I should have done as they ended up cracking when I rolled the sponge). I like to fill and roll the sponge whilst it’s still hot to prevent the chances of cracking.

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Invert your cooked sponge onto the paper – almond-side down. If the edges are crispy, trim them off (cook’s perk!)

Spread your jam right to the edges of the sponge, then make a score about 1cm from one of the short edges of the sponge – this helps it to roll tightly.

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Spread the jam evenly over the sponge

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Score a line about 1cm from the short side of the sponge

Now, deep breath, go for your roll! Use the paper to help guide the sponge into a roll, starting with the scored short side. Go slowly and it will come together into tight swirl, like this.

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Then roll up tightly from the scored short edge, using the paper to help you. You’ll get a swiss roll as reward for your efforts.

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Leave it to cool completely…

Leave the sponge to cool completely on a wire rack, then get stuck in. Old-school jammy swirly easy goodness!

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Admire the swirly jammy goodness

This cake is a teatime classic, and a fun way of using up pots of jam left lurking in the fridge. I also make a swiss roll that’s filled with fresh cream, but the technique is slightly different – that’s a post for another day…

Raspberry almond swiss roll

3 large eggs, as fresh as possible, at room temperature

75g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

75g plain flour, sifted

1 tsp vanilla extract

Flaked almonds, for sprinkling

Jam of your choice – about half a jar should do it

Plus you’ll need baking parchment and a swiss roll tin, about 35 x 25cm.

Prepare the tin with baking parchment, and preheat the oven to 175c fan. Beat the eggs, vanilla and sugar together using an electric whisk until they are thick and fluffy, at least four minutes. Do not stint this bit, it’s really important to get air into the sponge. Using a very large metal spoon, fold the flour into the eggs in three batches, until the flour is totally combined. Be careful not to overwork the mixture; it needs to be light and fluffy. Gently pour it into the prepared tin and spread evenly, right to the edges. Lightly sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden and just set.

Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper that is larger than the cake, on top of a tea towel. Sprinkle the paper with caster sugar. Invert the cooked sponge onto the paper, peel of its backing, and trim the edges of the sponge. Spread evenly with jam, right to the edges. Score a line 1cm from the edge of one of the short sides of the sponge. Using the paper to help you, roll it up from the scored edge, easing it into a tight roll. Allow the roll to cool completely, seam side down, until you want to serve it.