Last Thursday in celebration of the 1st Birthday of the North Fingal Women in Business Group, Clarke’s Fresh Fruit hosted an educational evening. I’m a member of the group, albeit not that frequent attendee as the meetings tend to be in the mornings which isn’t great when I’ve a gaggle of kids to get out to school. On this occasion though it was in the evening and as soon as the invitation arrived I accepted without hesitation.
I made my way home with quite a fruit bounty and it was only fitting that I made the most of the strawberries that ended up on my kitchen counter.
Clarke’s fruit farm is about 10 minutes drive to my house and I’m a regular visitor to the farm shop which offers great value if you like to buy fruit for preserving. On my most recent visit I bought a large chip of strawberries for just €8.
As it happens one of the polytunnels that we grow our produce in is recycled using an old frame from Clarke’s that we were gifted via a staff member at the time when we started in the allotments first, then covered with fresh poly-plastic. It has served us extremely well over the years, and we now grow many fruits including the peaches, grapes, tomatoes, melons, and much more within.
The night of the party we were greeted with trays of chocolate dipped strawberries, then with our nametags, we boarded the minibus that the Clarke’s had organised for a tour of the fruit farm itself. As you can imagine I was in absolute heaven getting a guided tour of a farm that I’ve been so interested, particularly as they grow so much fruit using polytunnels. Pat and Mary Clarke were incredibly generous with the knowledge they passed on to their guests, and allowed us inside the polytunnels to pick strawberries for supper.
After visiting the farm we were then brought to hear Chef Brian McDermott speak about enterprise, how he became a small business owner, how we can take care of ourselves, and support one another in business. Followed swiftly by a cookery demonstration when he filled the room with tantalising smells and showed us how easy it is to make a pork fillet stretch to feed a large group.
Once the cookery demonstration was over, the room was reset as a dining room and we all sat down to an Autumnal feast of chicken in a home-grown plum sauce served with strawberry salad, followed by a berry crumble with meringues, all washed down with elderflower cordial. Every opportunity to speak was used by Mary Clarke to champion those who contribute to their business and to the community at large. It was a wonderful occasion.
The night ended with a raffle, for we had all received tickets on arrival. To great laughter, the last ticket picked was mine and I won the final prize, which was the beautiful cake that Chef Brian had assembled in his demo. As we were leaving though I struck up an exchange with the lucky winner of the basket of strawberries and so this is how I ended up with an opportunity to make jam.
Notes about ‘jam sugar’: Jam sugar contains extra pectin and normally also contains some palm oil, which is designed to assist a jam to set. However, if you would prefer not to use palm oil in your jam, wash then peel 3 cooking apples. Place the peel in the saucepan when making the jam and remove from the saucepan before filling the jars. The quantity of sugar remains the same. The apple peel is a natural source of pectin.
[recipe][recipe title=”Strawberry Jam With Gin” servings=”1.5 Litres” time=”45 minutes” difficulty=”easy”]
The botanicals that are used to make gin, are perfect for combining with the strawberry jam. As jam is boiled for over 5 minutes, the alcohol content is evaporated and the flavours are boosted by the botanical flavours. If you can get your hands on a gin that has been made using Summer botanicals that would be even better!
- 1kg fresh strawberries
- 2 lemons
- 50ml gin
- 10g freshly ground black pepper
- 800g jam sugar
First, take 4 clean jam jars, remove the lids and place them on a sturdy baking tray. Pop them into a cold oven and heat it to 120 degrees Celsius. This will sterilise the jars.
Next, wash and remove the stalk from the strawberries. Pour them all into a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Using a vegetable masher, mash down about ¾ of the strawberries. Leave the rest whole. Squeeze in the juice of 2 lemons; this will balance the sweet flavour of the jam. Finally, in with the sugar, gin, black pepper, and stir well.
Set the saucepan on a medium heat and bring the contents to a simmer. Stir regularly, so the bottom of the saucepan doesn’t stick. Once it starts to bubble, turn on high and boil for 5 minutes. Set your stopwatch! After 5 minutes, remove from the heat altogether and allow to cool for a further 10 minutes before decanting into your sterilized jam jars.
Once the jam is cool, top with a wax paper circle, then a round of cellophane and seal with an elastic band. You can get all these things in a jam set in any supermarket.[/recipe]
Disclosure: On this occasion I visited Clarke’s Fresh Fruit as a guest. However, there was no expectation placed on me at any time to write, blog, or mention my visit. While I received a gift of fruit on leaving and won a prize on the night, I regularly visit the farm shop as a paying customer.
Thank you so much to the Clarke’s for their hospitality and for hosting such an incredible celebratory evening. It is brilliant to be part of such a collaborative group which really celebrates women within our small community.