British Summer ~ Part 3: Classic Strawberry Jam

My first memory of strawberry jam was the sweet jars of sticky spread my Mother made when I was four years old. She used to send me to school with little sandwiches of Cheddar cheese and strawberry jam on white bread. I used to swap one bread slice from the jam sandwich with the plain buttered slice of the cheese sandwich to create a cheese and strawberry jam mash-up. They were amazing.

Strawberry Jam has always been a food staple in many kitchen cupboards, but how many of us realise that it is only made up of strawberries, sugar and a splash of lemon juice? What sweet simplicity in a jar.

2 kg Strawberries
2 kg Granulated Sugar
4 tbsp. lemon juice


Start by preparing your jam jars: Sterilise the jars by washing them in hot soapy water, rinsing and letting them drip dry in on a rack in a pre-heated oven on 100ºC.

Now prepare the fruit: Top green heads off the strawberries and hull and halve any large ones. Place them into a large pan with plenty of space and add the lemon juice. Set over the stove on a very low heat to for twenty minutes or until all the fruit are very soft, stirring occasionally to move the strawberries from the bottom. Pour in the sugar and stir until dissolved.

Bring the jam temperature to setting point (105ºC/220F) by increasing the heat to a gentle rolling boil, whilst stirring.

TipIf you do not have a kitchen thermometer, then have a cold saucer to hand. Quickly spoon out a little on to the saucer and after a minute run your finger through the jam. If the syrup wrinkles and your finger leaves a path through it then the jam is ready.

Pour into the jars, and seal tightly. To help with preserving your jam, you can buy cheap jam jar kits. These usually include cut-to-size wax circles to place over the surface of the jam, transparent plastic covers to wrap over the jar top, tied off with an elastic band before you screw on the lid.

Tip: Wet the plastic cover with a clean, damp sponge to allow for good contact and extra elasticity as you pull it over the jar top.

What else? Well, have you heard of the gardening phrase what grows together, goes together? Well it’s true – and if you consider it in jam making, here are some great variations to classic strawberry jam for different uses, during the summer months:

  • Strawberry and Lavender (in season: late June – early August)
  • Strawberry and Rhubarb (in season: April – July)
  • Strawberry and Gooseberry (in season: July – August)
  • Strawberry and Raspberry (in season: July – September)
  • Strawberry and Peach (in season: July – September)
  • Strawberry, Vanilla and Basil (all summer)
  • Strawberry and Mint (all summer)

And what else is there to do with jam? Well those possibilities are infinite:

  • Rice Pudding and jam
  • Strawberry Jam tarts
  • Jam roly-poly
  • Pavlova/Eton Mess
  • Classic Victoria Sponge Sandwich with butter cream and strawberry filling


Sweet Potato Lunches

It’s time for a healthy post, after that last one…

Higher in vitamins A and C than a white potato varieties and slightly lower in calories, the sweet potato could potentially revamp that classic baked potato favourite. If you’ve never tried it it’s a great tasting, and highly versatile alternative to the average potato. Sweet potato pie for desert is a fantastic tasty treat for late summer to autumn evenings. Sweet potato wedges with Cajun seasoning (or even just paprika) with a sour cream dip are a lovely social snack or to accompany steak nights, fajitas, barbecues or even a bowl of chilli.

But I love sweet potatoes for lunch, under a fresh salad of Cos lettuce with my favourite sweet and salty combination of goats’ cheese and pineapple chunks. What you fill a potato with is really down to preference, but is my favourite and gets my taste buds jumping for joy. What’s more is the fact that, they taste great cold too – so it’s this fantastic packed lunch-able for the school of office.

TipRun a metal skewer through the sweet potato from top to bottom. This will help to conduct the heat through the centre of the potato. Place it on a tray and rub it with olive oil and a bit of salt, before placing it in a hot oven on about 200º for around 40 minutes (depending on the size of the potato). If the metal skewer gives easily as you try to remove it, the potato is done. It will feel softer than a normal potato.

Slice it open and mash a little more olive oil (or butter if you fancy) and a crumble of goat’s cheese into the centre. Cover with your favourite salad veg – I used spring onions and celery for a peppery undertone, really sweet tomatoes, lettuce and some cucumber and radish for added crunch. Top it off with more pineapple and finally plenty of goats’ cheese.

Other great fillings that I love for a baked sweet potato are:

  • Beetroot, shallot and Emmental and watercress
  • Extra strong Cheddar, sour cream and guacamole
  • Tuna, red onion, Mozzarella and rocket

What do you like on yours? ~

Toffee Crisps

I remember when sticky toffee rice puff bars first appeared in the shops, complete with cereal branding to grab your attention. At least half the kids in my class had them in their lunch boxes at school. I was about nine years old and no doubt one of many kids who nagged their mothers for this sugary block on the supermarket shelf.

I don’t know why I was so amazed to find this recipe on the desert postcard my Grandmother had kept. It was as if I had assumed that crispy puffed rice cereal did not exist pre-1990’s, let alone without the slogan – snap, crackle and pop. But it did – and instead of referring to them by brand, they were just rice puffs or rice crisps. It is with these that this ridiculously high-sugar, but kids’ delight, snack is made.

My grandmother starts this recipe with ‘a shilling slab of toffee’, which is not the most helpful of measurements in 2012, I have to say. After some reckoning and experimenting, these are the modern measurements I now use.

175g toffee (a slab broken up, or just a bag of toffee pieces)
100g butter (unsalted)
100g caster sugar
150g rice puffs

Melt the toffee with butter and sugar gently in a pan over a low heat. Keep stirring to avoid any sugar burning or catching at the bottom of the pan. Once you have a smooth thick syrupy mixture, pour over the rice puffs in a large bowl and stir, carefully folding the liquid through the rice until everything is coated evenly. Pack it down flat into tin lined with greaseproof paper and chill.

Once set, cut the square into blocks small enough for small hands not to make too much of a mess when eating.

Elderflower ~ Cordial, Wine, Champagne

I love how much superstition surrounds these age-old beautiful trees.

From the Anglo-Saxons who believed the plant contained the soul of a witch and that cutting one down would free her spirit to find revenge, to the early Christians who said that Christ’s cross was made from the wood of an Elder, this tree has caught the imagination of people for centuries and inspired them across Europe and western parts of Asia. These days the elderflower is more known for its immune-boosting ability for colds and flu remedies, prophylactic qualities for hay-fever sufferers, even a homeopathic treatment for people with catarrh and sinus problems.

Sparkling elderflower cordial is like a splash of summer in glass. It has all those scents of a sunny day in the garden. But I had never made it myself until I found my Grandmother’s written instructions for her own recipe. These were penned in large letters over the printed five minute ‘appointment’ slots of a doctor’s diary and pressed specifically between the pages of the ‘Medicines’ chapter in the book, Recipes from an Old Farmhouse by Alison Uttley. I am lead to believe a very close friend who was, in fact, a doctor, gave her these recipes. I’m sure that these Elderflower recipes is just as medicinal now, as my Grandmother thought it was then.

Elise’s Elderflower Cordial:

25-30 heads of flowers (gathered on a sunny day when the bees are on them)
4pts boiling water
2lb caster sugar
1 lemon
1 orange

Give the elderflowers a shake to remove any unwanted insects and cut off any thick stalks.  Zest the skins of the orange and lemon, slice the remaining fruit and add these to a large bucket with the flower heads. Pour over the water and leave over night.

Strain the cordial through a fine sieve and heat in a pan gently. Stir all the sugar to dissolve. Allow it to cool, before decanting into sealable bottles.

Dilute one part cordial with five parts water (still or sparkling), over ice with a sprig of fresh mint. Add a shot of vodka or gin for an adult twist.

Elise’s Elderflower Wine:

10 – 15 heads of flowers
3 lbs. sugar
1 lemon
8pt. boiling water
A handful of raisins

Cut off any big stalks on the elderflower heads. Put everything in a plastic bucket, and pour over the boiling water. Stir and leave for a five days, stirring twice daily. Keep well covered.

Strain into an airtight non-metallic container and leave the cordial to work. Syphon off into bottles and drink after three months.

Elise’s Elderflower Champagne:

7 heads of flowers
8pt. cold water
1 lb. sugar
2 lemons
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Warm a little of the water and melt in the sugar. Once dissolved, add this to the rest of the water. In a bucket put the elderflowers, sliced lemons and vinegar. Pour the water over the flowers and leave for twenty-four hours.

Strain, bottle and drink in ten days.

Chocolate Ice Cream

Making ice cream is surprisingly straightforward. There are many ways for the freezing process – but I found this was pretty easy, as it requires no repeat stirring every hour. This is another great recipe from my Grandmother’s archives.  In her cookbooks, there are telltale signs that the pages that contain this recipe have been well over used. Small explosions of powdered chocolate seem to dot the margins and map their way across the pages that also include her marvelous Bombe Au Chocolat and Iced Soufflé. But there is no sign as to which of these recipes might have been the household favourite, so I’ll be trying them all out over the summer holiday.

4 egg yolks
120g of sugar
1 pinch salt
3/4 pt. single cream
170g melted dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 pt. double cream (whipped)
A cup of chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (milk, dark or white)

In a heat proof bowl beat the egg yolks, sugar and salt until the colour pales. Heat the single cream to just steaming (not boiling) temperature and stir in the cocoa powder. Very slowly add this to the beaten yolk, whisking all the while until mixture has blended together.

Place the bowl over a saucepan of hot water (bain-marie) and cook, stirring continuously, until custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Melt the chocolate in a separate bowl over the bain-marie.

Strain the custard to get rid of lumps you might have and stir in melted chocolate. Set aside to chill and once cooled completely. Whip the double cream until it is stiff and mix this along with the chocolate chips into chocolate custard mixture then freeze for at least 3 hrs.

Serve with what ever you like with your ice cream! Crushed hazelnuts and extra chocolate sauce is my favourite.

Tip: For an added (grown up twist) twist add a shot of fresh espresso to the hot single cream stage, for a coffee kick. Even swap out the chocolate chips for the zest of an orange.

Sweet and Sour Pork & Egg Fried Rice

When it comes to my Mother’s culinary repertoire, this is one of her crowning dishes (and the one my Dad goes on about the most). It’s a much loved family favourite and it always seems to be this special meal that gets cooked whenever there are a million family guests visiting. I won’t deny that it is a timely and excessive recipe but with a bit of easy preparation anyone can get it tasting delicious. Don’t be deterred by the ingredients list – I promise there will be full and happy bellies all round.

Ingredients: (Serves 4)
Pork tenderloin (cut into ½ inch chunks)
1/2 cucumber
2 carrot
2 peppers
4 chestnut mushrooms
1 large onion
1 inch of ginger
Whole bulb of garlic
Pineapple chunks
Pineapple juice (if from tin)
1 cup of corn flour
Tomato sauce
Vinegar to taste
Lemon zest
Juice of half a lemon
5 small chillis
Salt and pepper to taste
2 spoons soy sauce
2 spoons of sugar
1 tbsp. five spice

Marinate the pork chunks in the fivespice, sherry, soy sauce, lemon zest and lemon juice and corn flour and pepper. Make sure the meat is coated well in the mix to ensure good cornflower coverage. Leave for at least an hour in the fridge but overnight is best.

After the marinating, give it a stir to make sure everything is coated evenly and fry in a pan with 1/2 inch of hot veg oil, carefully turning the chunks only when the underside is browned and the thin corn flour coat has crisped at the edges. Do not over cook the meat.

Drain on some kitchen towel.

Use the left over marinade to make the sauce base. To this add half a cup of tomato sauce, sugar and the pineapple juice (if using tinned pineapple).

In a large wok – fry off the onions, garlic, chills, ginger in a little oil.  To the pan, add all the veg and pineapple, stir-fry briefly then add the left over marinade sauce. As the cornflower begins to thicken the sauce, add a generous glug of vinegar. Give it a taste to make sure the sweet/sour balance is as you like it. Lastly stir in the meat and add chives and parsley chopped to season.

Serve with rice and top with finely sliced spring onions. A chilled Rosé stands up refreshingly well to the sweet and sour without overpowering (like a fuller bodied red) or skewing the flavours (like a dry white).

Steamed rice (let it dry and cool with the lid off before frying)
A dash of Shaoxing rice wine or sherry
1/2 tbsp. light soy sauce
1/2 cup of peas
2 eggs – fried like an omelette, rolled and sliced

Chop the ½ inch of ginger as finely as possible and fry in a pan with some light oil. Add an egg – breaking the yolk into the white. Fry until you have a set omelette that you can roll out and slice into thin strips.

Place the empty pan back over a hot flame, add a little more oil and add your cooked rice. Turning the rice as you go so that it does not stick, add a dash of soy sauce and an equal dash of rice wine or sherry.

When the stain of the soy sauce is mixed through all the rice – add some peas (or any other small veg pieces you’d prefer) and the egg back into the mix. Turn constantly so that the rice does not burn to the pan. When the peas are cooked (which does not take long) the rice is ready to serve.

Coconut Macaroons

I first tasted coconut macaroons in the Christmas Markets in Manchester a few years ago. Although originally macaroons are made with crushed almonds, these coconut versions are actually quite easy to make and are pretty snacks to decorate the table for any sort of party. Or just a comforting sweet bite to bake all for yourself…

200g shredded coconut
150g caster sugar
2 larges egg whites
8 squares of dark chocolate (or milk if you prefer)

Simply mix all three ingredients well in a bowl and chill for fifteen minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°. Using an ice-cream scoop, make moulds of coconut half-spheres and space them out on a baking tray lined with grease-proof paper.

Bake for fifteen minutes, until the coconut catches a golden colour. Remove from the oven and whilst cooling, melt a small amount of dark chocolate in a ban-marie. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the cooled macaroons – or alternatively, dip half of each macaroon in the chocolate and allow the chocolate to set on the baking paper before eating. ~