Wednesday July 09th 2008, 10:08 pm

Strawberry & Vanilla Jam

I am currently writing a book on jam making so am busy with a preserving pan. It seems very strange indeed that the end results from combining just two ingredients, fruit and sugar, can vary so much.
A couple of years ago I made some apricot jam and gave a jar to my friend Joy, knowing that she had a particular liking for this preserve and its association, in our minds, with France. She was quite polite but did tell me she had found the jam rather overly sweet. We don’t so often find fresh homegrown apricots on sale in the UK and though I can’t recall the exact details, I had most likely bought imported fruit in the supermarket and was swayed by how nice the amber fruits looked with just a hint of a pink blush that took my thoughts straight to magical times spent in Provence. Back to reality, we all know that out of season imported fruit is usually all blouse and no knickers, rarely matching its promise, and this instance was no exception.
For the book, my criteria required for a recipe to be included is that preserves must capture the real character of the fruit and a sweet nondescript could-be-any-old-fruit taste is certainly not worth the effort involved. As nowadays too much sugar is a bit off putting as well, reducing the sugar content where possible is an added bonus, though the sugar is an essential part of what helps the jam to keep, which means there is a limit to how little you can use. So when I made the best strawberry and vanilla jam I have ever tasted, using locally grown fruit full of the unmistakable flavour of utmost strawberry and which included less sugar than usual, I thought it worth mentioning. As well as that, strawberry jam teams up perfectly with scones and clotted cream for the classic summer treat. What follows is how to make the ultimate scones, jam and cream from scratch for afternoon tea. If you are making this all in one go, you will need to begin two days before as the fruit, vanilla and sugar needs to marinade, or should I say macerate, overnight before you make it into jam and once made it has to be left till cold. The jam has quite a soft set, which again is very lovely and guaranteed to ooze out of the scones.
My Mum always makes scones with dried fruit in them and the habits you grow up with are hard to break away from, but here a plain scone is definitely what is required. Make the scones quite small as well, no bigger than 5cm diameter, just eat twice as many.
Let’s start with the jam…..