I made strawberry jam this morning from some of the bargain strawberries I mentioned in my last letter.
The whole process made me feel like a proper Nanna – the sort who smells of vanilla and wears face powder and big knickers and has a brooch pinned to her frock.
I’ll bring a jar of my strawberry jam when we come to see you at Christmas and we can stuff ourselves with it before everyone else wakes up.
It’s likely I won’t have time to write another blog post before then because it’s odds on I’ll either be busy with work and last-minute shopping or too full of booze and food to be of any real use.
Before I go I’d like to wish everyone who reads this blog a very happy and safe Christmas.
It’s been wonderful this past year to get emails from people from all over the world.
I know the Internet has its downsides but you lot certainly aren’t one of them.
May Santa bring you everything you wished for.
This recipe is off the back of the JamSetta packet and can be used for any berry fruits
¼ cup water
4 tbsp lemon juice
1.5kg granulated sugar, warmed
50g packet JamSetta
Preheat the oven to 150C.
Put three saucers or small plates in the freezer for jam-testing later.
Wash drain and hull the strawberries and cut them into halves or quarters if they’re huge.
Put them in a really big pan (I used a pasta pan) with the water and lemon juice and cook gently, uncovered, until the strawberries are soft.
While that’s happening, look at the huge mountain of sugar you’re about to use, think about how it will desecrate the temple that is your body, then put the sugar in a big bowl and warm it in the oven for 6 minutes.
Wash five or six jam jars and their lids in hot soapy water, rinse thoroughly, drain well and put them on a baking sheet ready to put in the oven.
Don’t touch the inside of the jars and lids when you do this or you may die later.
Add the warmed sugar and JamSetta to the strawberries in the pan and heat gently until dissolved, stirring constantly.
Bring to the boil and boil vigorously for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Quite a bit of pink scum (frothy stuff) will rise to the top of the jam while it’s boiling. Remove it with a slotted spoon and dump it in a bowl.
While the jam is boiling, put your tray of jam jars and lids in the oven to complete the sterilisation process.
Test if the jam has reached setting point by putting a teaspoon of jam onto one of the cold plates and leaving it for 30 seconds.
It’s ready when you run your finger through it and the jam crinkles.
If this doesn’t happen keep boiling and testing until it does or until you think, ‘I really don’t give a shit anymore,’ which is what happened to me.
Remove the jam from the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes.
Ladle it into the hot jars with a ladle that was washed and rinsed along with the jam jars.
Fill the jars right to the top and put the lids on straight away.
You’ll probably have a little bit of jam left in the bottom of the pan that won’t fit into your jars.
Eat it all with a spoon.
Lie down and wish you hadn’t.
Here’s how you make Lilly Pilly Jelly.
First you go to the kitchen shop over the road from work and ask for a jelly bag and the woman says, “Pardon?”
It turns out neither of you has a clue what a jelly bag is, but luckily she sells cheesecloth, $6.95, sealed in plastic, just the ticket.
Cheesecloth is a thin, white fabric you can see through.
Lots of people wore tops made out of cheesecloth in the 1970s.
They came into fashion shortly after women followed Germaine Greer’s lead and burned their bras, so it was a very good way to get to know nipples other than your own.
This is why – despite the appalling music, hair and clothes – men of a certain age would go back to the 70s in a heartbeat if given half a chance.
After you’ve bought your cheesecloth, you go straight into your garden and pick three kilos of lilly pillies off your bushes.
Well, in an ideal world you go straight into your garden and pick three kilos of lilly pillies.
If you live in an un-ideal world, you pick your lilly pillies the weekend before and leave them sitting on the bench in two colanders for a week.
On jelly-making day, you find that half of your lilly pillies are putrid and have to be thrown out.
So you give the remaining lilly pillies a good wash and put them in a big pot with a whole lemon and then you add enough water to only just cover the fruit.
Then you put the pot on a high flame and boil the shit out of them until the lilly pillies are soft and lose most of their colour and the water turns purple.
Then you line a colander with the cheesecloth, which has been folded over and over into a square.
Then you put the colander over your tallest pasta pot and pour in all your purple liquid and fruit (except for the lemon, which you chuck in the bin).
Then you gather up the edges of the cheesecloth and tie it at the top with string.
Then you ask Grandpa to give you a hand suspending the cheesecloth bundle over your tallest pasta pot so that every last drop of the lilly pilly liquid can drip through.
Then you and Grandpa spend the next half hour discussing how you will achieve this feat and just when you’re on the point of punching each other in the throat, Grandpa says, “For God’s sake just let me do it” and 30 seconds later the cheesecloth bundle is suspended over the pot.
Your cheesecloth bundle is supposed to be left suspended overnight but after four hours you think, ‘Bugger this for a joke’ and pour all your purple liquid into a measuring jug.
You do this because the next step in this lengthy process involves measuring sugar.
As in, you need one cup of sugar for each cup of liquid.
You also need to sterilise your jars, which involves washing jars and lids in hot soapy water, rinsing them, drying them with a clean tea towel, putting them upright on an oven tray and sticking them in a 150C oven for half an hour.
While this is happening, you make your Lilly Pilly Jelly by putting the purple liquid and sugar into a big saucepan and boiling the shit out of it again for about 15 minutes.
If you put it into a small-ish saucepan it boils over and goes all over the cooktop and it takes you eight minutes to clean everything up.
You know this because you time yourself.
After 15 minutes of boiling, you put a teaspoon of jelly onto a cold plate and wait 30 seconds to see if it wrinkles on the top.
It doesn’t, so you chuck in some JamSetta and proceed according to packet directions.
Then you pour your hot jelly into your hot jars and put the lids on.
Then you step back and look at your one and a half lousy jars of Lilly Pilly Jelly, which – taking into account the time, effort, petrol, mileage, cheesecloth, JamSetta, Panadol, possible psychiatric intervention etc involved – have cost about 15 bucks each.
Luckily it tastes really nice.
This picture arrived in my inbox yesterday from my mate Martha Stewart.
The accompanying text said, “This Mother’s Day, pamper Mom with a handmade eye mask that includes a message from you.”
I think my message would be, “Wake up, Grandpa! Nanna wants to scare the crap out of you,” but maybe that’s just me.
Here are some more craft suggestions from Martha in case you can’t make it down to the deli today to buy Mom a bunch of flowers.
You will find all of them (and more) at marthastewart.com.
A balloon bouquet.
There’ll be lots of phone calls and chatting today because no one who works full time wants to drive an 832km round trip to say Happy Mother’s Day in person (we’re a sentimental bunch).
After all the chatting I’ll be knackered but I’ll soldier on and make something out of the quinces that I picked off the trees I planted three years ago.
According to Australia’s Homemade Jam and Preserves Book, which is sitting next to me as I type, the ancient Greeks used quinces as an antidote for hangovers, poisons, upsets and fevers.
Who would’ve thought?
My quinces have been ripening in a box for weeks and are covered in scabby bits but they smell beautiful and should be fine for quince paste or jam or something.
If I’m feeling particularly Martha-ish, I might also pick the lillypilly berries that are growing on the hedge at the bottom of the garden and make some lillypilly jam.
But here’s a recipe anyway.
PS: There’s only one more week left of this latest full-time-work stint at the ABC, thank Christ.
No more getting out of bed at 5.30am.
Plus, Grandpa and I will be able to come and visit everyone. Yay!
LILLY PILLY JAM
2 granny smith apples
juice of 1 lemon
600g caster sugar
Wash the lilly pillies well. Peel and core the apples, then chop into small pieces.
Put lilly pillies, apples, lemon juice, water and sugar in a small saucepan and slowly bring to the boil over a medium heat.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.
Add more lemon juice if the mixture does not appear to set.
Use a potato masher to break the skin and seed from the fruit.
Strain mixture to remove skin and seeds.
Return pan to heat and, when reduced, use a stick blender to combine.
Set aside to cool, then refrigerate.
To store, pour into hot, sterilised jars and seal when cold.
This recipe is from Better Homes and Garden magazine.
If I make it and it doesn’t set, I’ll use some JamSetta, which you can buy at supermarkets.