Although growing up there wasn’t a whole lot of outdoorsiness in my family (other than playing in the garden), the one thing we always seemed to venture further afield for was strawberry picking. That collective mission and the anticipation of taking home our bounty to enjoy. It was a treasured day in the year. As Summer arrived I would spot a strawberry shaped PYO sign a mile off and begin my badgering.
So it’s no surprise that picking our own is a strong feature in my little family’s Summer rhythm. Despite growing a few in our tiny garden, or maybe because of it, when the PYOs open our boys have unending enthusiasm and excitement for them. Wonderfully, as my eldest grows and our rhythms become a part of him, he knows instinctively when that time is nearing. Such a lovely thing.
He’s been asking for a few weeks now and last weekend I was able to say ‘yes, it’s time’ to expectant and then delighted faces.
I don’t know if it’s the same all over, but in this corner of Kent we seem to have fewer PYOs than we used to. Our favourite PYO stopped growing strawberries in recent years because it wasn’t working out commercially for them. Luckily for us they still grow a vast array of other berries, stone fruit and orchard fruit that we’ll go back for again and again. And we have a new favourite for strawberries.
On Sunday afternoon we set off for Perry Court Farm, in Wye. A lovely family-run farm with the added bonus of a great farm shop, tea room and vintage tractor for small people to climb on. Last year, we picked in the rain. Nothing dampens the appetites of these boys. Happily this year it was blue skies and fluffy clouds all round.
There’s something very special for me in the repetition of our seasonal rhythm. Watching our boys rediscovering a familiar place and activity, each time a year older, each time with a different energy and awareness, it’s a truly lovely way to notice how they’re changing and growing. I try to be fully present with that. To really see how they’re simultaneously, it seems, exactly the same and completely different. For me, it’s an antidote to the sense of time running away with us and our children growing up ‘too quickly’. When I watch our eldest as thrilled at six as he was at two at the discovery of a gigantic juicy red strawberry nestled under a large leaf, the same shining eyes and pink cheeks, I know the pace of his childhood is exactly as it should be. And when I notice his determination, strategising and staying power (not to mention speed at filling his basket!) I quietly honour the person he’s becoming. They’re always the same but different and through our rhythms I really see and hold those differences.
Some things stay the same year after year:
- We are seemingly unable to hold ourselves back so we ALWAYS pick too many.
- We make ourselves feel justified in picking so many by thinking up a long list of things we can make with them as we journey home.
- Jam is always at the top of the list since there isn’t a jam in the land that tastes better than the one we make ourselves.
- I always realise just as we walk through the front door, while they chatter about making the jam right away, that I’ve absolutely no idea where I found the recipe that swaps sugar for honey and omits the added pectin that I used the last time we made it and panic slightly that I won’t be able to find it.
- I always do find it and resolve to write it down somewhere to avoid the panic next year. And then don’t.
- We then make the jam, usually at the same time as cooking dinner which is always a bit dicey.
- The kitchen table will be stained pink for a week but it wont matter because the boys will have loved being involved in the chopping.
- I’ll be convinced the jam hasn’t reduced enough despite cooking it for longer but will spoon it into jars anyway because it’s almost bath time and who has time to worry about things like watery jam anyway?
- After it’s safely tucked into the freezer (sugar-free jam is generally best kept this way) I’ll remember I haven’t taken any pictures of the process or the result. Never mind.
- And my personal favourite – in the midst of Winter, long after we think we’ve finished the whole batch, we’ll discover a teeny tiny pot that we’d missed under a pack of frozen beanburgers and do a happy dance around the kitchen at the wonder of Summer in a pot.
Ah, but this year I am learning and though nothing else has gone any differently, I will right here right now note down that recipe so I know exactly where it is next year. And next year it’ll just be too easy!
Strawberry Freezer Jam
(sugar and pectin free)
We like our jam sugar-free because we try to keep refined sugar to a minimum. Honey works as an alternative for us, it’s natural and lower GI than refined sugar. However, I think if you’re going sugar-free for a medical reason it might not be your best option. Pectin is used as a setting agent for jams, but it’s not exactly a natural product in my eyes and in order for it to work it needs a fairly high sugar content. So one equals the other and neither are great in my book, hence doing without both. My very simple recipe is based on one that I found here, with thanks to the author.
4lbs Fresh Strawberries, hulled and halved
464ml Honey (that’s usually a large jar in the UK)
Pop the strawberries in a large cooking pan or jam pan. Mash them a little. Put it on a medium heat and cook until the berries become ‘soupy’.
Add the honey and continue to bubble away for 30 minutes, stirring often.
For me, this isn’t an exact science. If I feel at this point it has reduced down quite a bit I call it done, or if not I leave it to bubble for another ten minutes, still stirring. It will still be quite runny and it won’t set anyway due to the lack of pectin. But it will thicken a little once cooled and refrigerated, to the consistency of a French conserve. I’ve possibly no business calling it a jam without the setting actually, but hey ho, in our house it’s jam.
In the fridge it’ll be ok for a week or so usually. I tend to store it in lots of very small kilner jars in the freezer, taking one out and using it within a few days, in order not to waste any.
These little (frozen) jars make me happy on many levels. Produce that we’ve gathered and cooked ourselves, preserved for months to come. No pouring of sugar over fresh fruit, which always seems a bit wrong to me. Delicious sugar-free jam made from only two completely natural ingredients, which I’m happy for the boys to eat for breakfast or snacks. And they had a hand in making it all the way through.