samedi 14 juin 2014

Jam not telly

Well, the general consensus on the internets is that Croatia was robbed. Brazil's double goal scorer shouldn't have been on the pitch after his forearm smash to an opponent's throat, it was never a penalty, Croatia's goal should have stood, etc etc. Still, they've spent so much on the stadiums, they can't have the home side being knocked out early. This tweet summed it up nicely:
And though we enjoyed a pleasant little soirée round at Djamel's watching this opening match, I realise I can't summon that adolescent fervour any more. It was a great buzz while it lasted, but I won't be going out of my way to watch any more FIFA World Cup matches. Instead I'm going to be making jam and chutney and maybe posting some illustrations here.
I like pictures of stuff in the kitchen sink on the way to being transformed to some delightful conserved product that will last out the year:

A list of the steps

0) First pick your strawberries. These were from Muzon, near Trellières, about 15k from Nantes. The women and children drove in cars; I naturally found it a pleasant occasion for a bike ride. Picnic in a field. When the farmer returned from lunch we got started. I picked about 3 kilos as fast as I could. On the ride home I bought 3kg of sugar from SuperU.
1) Wash and trim strawberries. This took a while, listened to some podcasts online. In the end there was 2.2kg of fruit.
2) As well as a field of berries to pick, the farmer also kindly supplied an A5 flyer with a jam recipe on it, which I followed slavishly in the absence of any other counsel. This suggested adding 600g of sugar plus the juice of 1 lemon for each 1kg of fruit.
3) As soon as you add the sugar and lemon to the fruit the osmotic process of maceration begins. The lid on the pan not being 100% close fitting, I also put the pan in a plastic bag, to avoid contamination with any other odours from the fridge.
4) In the morning you have a cauldron of shrunken wibbly strawbs in a dark red syrup. This you boil for one minute, then cool it and put it back in the fridge.
5) On the third day, comes the definitive cooking. This obviously involves jar preparation (see video below for technique). The cooking is the most fraught part of the process. Boiling the fruit, sugar, and acid should liberate pectin from cell walls in the fruit and cause the mixture to gel. You test the propensity of your solution to gel by the 'cold plate test': putting a teaspoonful of the solution on a cold plate and looking for signs of jellification. If you boil it too much, you can zap all the pectin chains, and it will never set, or you boil off too much water and it crystallizes into a solid lump of fruity sugar.
So when I had exceeded the recommended cooking times of both the farmer (7-12 min) and Harold McGee* (10-20 min) I was nervous. The red juice ran down the face of the plate as freely as at the beginning. Also, it was time to go fetch the boy from school for lunch. So once more I cooled the mixture in a sink of cold water, and held off doing anything about it till later.
6) Happily I ran into Isabel, picnicking at the park, who suggested the addition of some agar-agar and pointed me to the La Vie Claire to get it.
7) That evening, I mixed four 2g-sachets of the grey, seaweed-derived product with about 30mls of water in a cup, then added some of my reheating jam solution to the cup, mixed it well, and lobbed the whole lot back into the pan. Another couple of minutes of boiling, and, for the first time, the cold plate test started to develop a ripple of viscosity, and into the jars it went.
8) Cooled over night, the jam is a nice consistency, doesn't run off the toast and has a good flavour. It's very sweet.

*Heston Blumenthal's favourite cookbook: McGee H. On food and cooking: the science and lore of the kitchen. NY: Scribner, 1984.

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