The smell of simmering jam in my memory is all pervading. When I close my eyes and inhale deeply, I see an old wood fired stove, nestled in the heart of our home in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. It has been polished to its’ blackest perfection. The big copper urn atop, constantly on a slow boil ready for a cup of tea and my mother; busy, busy, always busily baking, cooking cleaning. Looking after us.
My passion for food was borne from her necessity. Mum saw it as a list of tasks lovingly performed to keep the family happy and moving forward; a loving to do list. I watched and saw it through the eyes of a little girl with a romantic heart. The notion that everything revolved around food and food was a part of everything good in life made me very happy. I loved food. I needed food.
There was a deep, inexplicable sadness in me, my escape into food provided absolute joy. The bliss of making a complete mess of the kitchen and the subsequent cleaning proved addictive.
So, I would find any excuse to cook. When my parents would go in to town for the quarterly pantry stock up, it would be as though an addict were sneaking his drug unwatched. I would pounce as soon as I could no longer hear the engine and pour over mums’ recipes for the perfect thing. This proved a little tricky with a bare pantry. My mother played ingredient swap with unabashed courage and her example helped me hone my inventive skills at a very young age.
She was brilliant. Making everything we consumed. There was no corner store, no bakery or milkman. Only the pantry, the garden and our imaginations.
The kitchen has always been a place of safety in experimentation with loving consequence. A no holds barred, unconditional joy in each turn of the page, in each flop, in each unexpected success. She always gives and comforts and this little girl needed both of those things in bottomless measure.
Strawberry & Apple Jam
Fresh apples off the tree were an impossibility 7000ft above sea level, so for this recipe we’ll use tinned pie apple, although the strawberries are fresh. I fondly remember our beautiful garden and Mum fertilising everything with manure which made the berries as big as my little fist and so sweet. Even though we didn’t have fresh citrus in the highlands, I’ve taken the liberty of adding lemon juice and zest to this recipe for a beautiful zingy bonus.
1 x 800g tin of chopped pie apple (unsweeetened)
3 x 250g punnet of strawberries,
washed, hulled and cut in half if they’re big. Left whole if they’re small.
1 kg castor sugar
2 lemons zested and juiced
Place all of your ingredients in a pot, and stir gently until combined and sugar has somewhat dissolved. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally and then reduce to a simmer for approx 40 minutes or until the jam reaches setting point, making sure to maintain the occasional stir. I usually drop a little of the jam liquid onto a saucer and let it roll around to cool. If it’s the consistency I like, I turn the pot off and transfer the jam into sterilised jars. This recipe will make close to 4 jars of jam.
Eat it with your eyes closed on warm pancakes with whipped vanilla cream and more fresh strawberries.