Strawberry Fields Forever

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June, it seems to me, is strawberry scented. Cream teas at Wimbledon, Pimms on the lawn, jars of berry bright jam, bowls of strawberries anointed with thick yellow cream. Other than a couple of straggly wild strawberry plants at the back of the garden, I have yet to try my hand at growing them. Luckily for me, however, the local Pick Your Own farm is just down the road.

It’s the perfect activity for small children on a sunny morning. Before the day has warmed up, we collect our cardboard punnets and set off up the verdant aisles between the strawberry plants. Small fingers and chins are quickly stained with scarlet juices, but once they have tried a few, the kids begin to pick steadily, gleefully exclaiming over the biggest and reddest strawberries.

It’s satisfying, meditative even, seeking out the choicest fruits. The punnets quickly fill with seed-speckled, glossy berries. With jam in mind, I am careful to include a good proportion of berries with some parts as yet green and unripe - these are a good source of pectin, which will ensure that the jam sets.

When we retire to the farm shop to have our bounty weighed, I pick up a big bag of lemons. These too contain pectin, and the addition of lemon juice to the jam means that I can use a mixture of granulated and jam sugar, which prevents it from being too sickly sweet. I have tried a number of jam recipes over the years and am still on a quest to find the perfect one. This year, I used the recipe from the River Cottage Preserves book, and it may be my favourite yet.

We have picked enough strawberries for two large batches of jam- twenty jars in all - and there are plenty left over to be enjoyed just as they are, fresh and sweetly luscious. I pop some berries in the freezer in preparation for a future batch of Strawberry Ice Cream.

Strawberry Shortcakes are another popular pudding, and a lovely way to use fresh berries. In the afternoon, when the jars of jam have cooled, I whip up a batch of my Grandma’s Sublime Scones. The children pile them high with dollops of clotted cream and spoonfuls of the strawberry jam, then devour them in a matter of moments. It’s hungry work, that strawberry picking!

Thanks for reading,