Although strawberries have been available on supermarket shelves for sometime, I wait patiently until the first of the sun-ripened berries arrive at the markets before I succumb to my first taste of the summer. It is well worth the wait, the flavour of sun-kissed fruit cannot be imitated.
My cooler valley garden lags a little behind in production. With anticipation I tend to the strawberry plants with a fresh sprinkling of compost and a layer of soft mulch to keep the fruit off the soil. It is magnificent to watch nature at play. First the berries grow to size, pale green and freckled. Then slowly, day by day, they rouge from the tip up. Then it is an urgency to harvest them when perfect before the birds find them.
Crimson rhubarb stalks and fragrant roses are other creations of the spring garden. As luck would have it – or maybe this is all part of nature’s master plan – their flavours effortlessly compliment.
Today, I kick off the preserving season with a spring-inspired conserve. If you have access to a fragrant rose you could try your hand at making the rose water from scratch. I have shared the simple technique, plus a complete menu using rose water, in the November 2017 issue of NZ House & Garden.
The roasting of the fruit is the key to this low-sugar conserve, intensifying the flavour and evaporating excess moisture from the fruit. Using less sugar and low pectin fruit, it won’t set into a jelly-like jam. This is a soft-set conserve with a more chunky texture – in my opinion perfect for serving with pikelets or crumpets.
I love preserving but find the intense sweetness of many jams overpowering. Fresh seasonal produce provides delightful nuances of flavour that I like to nurture rather than mask with sugar. Sugar has its place as a preservative, so when using less it is essential that correct sterilising protocol be followed (see recipe). Low sugar preserves also have a shorter shelf life, which consequently keeps an efficient turnover in the pantry.
*Find comprehensive home preserving guidelines in my new cookbook, Homegrown Kitchen – Everyday Recipes for Eating Well. Including how to preserve with little or no added sugar.
500g strawberries, washed and leaves removed
5-6 rhubarb stalks leaves removed, about 300g
½ cup (100g) sugar
Juice of ½ a lemon, about 2 tablespoons
2-3 teaspoons rose water
- Preheat oven 180 degrees Celsius.
- Cut the strawberries into halves, and rhubarb into 3cm lengths. Place on a lined baking tray and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Mix well and arrange in a single layer. Bake for 20 minutes until the fruit is tender and fragrant.
- Scoop fruit and juices into a shallow saucepan, and add the remaining sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a gentle simmer over a moderate heat.
- Cook uncovered, stirring regularly until thickened – about 20 minutes. Keep in mind the conserve will thicken some as it cools. Add the rose water to taste. Remove from the heat and cover.
- Sterilise 2 x 300g jars. Place clean jars in a 120C oven for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, boil lids for 10 minutes, drain and air dry. Carefully remove one jar from the oven, place on a wooden board and fill immediately with the hot conserve (reheated if needed). Wipe the rim and secure the hot lid. Repeat with the second jar. Cool completely, then check lids are sealed.
- Store in a cool dark pantry and use within six months. Once opened keep in the fridge and consume within four weeks.
*This recipe was first published 8th November 2017 on Stuff.co.nz