Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Home made strawberry jam (varenie)

For the second week already Moscow markets are full of strawberries. These are the first summer strawberries from Krasnodar region. Farmers are saying that this year they had record +35C temperatures in May and the strawberries came very early. They smell of summer and of my childhood. I just finished making the first portion (around 4 kg) of jam (varenie) and it feels like it is just the beginning.

Varenie is our favorite way of preserving summer fruit. It is a kind of jam, where you have whole pieces of fruit in lots of transparent colorful and aromatic syrup. If it is well done, the fruits also get almost translucent and spread evenly throughout the jar (do not fall to the bottom or float on the surface). In closed pasteurized jars it stores almost forever at room temperature.

After the apricots (for which I guess I'll have to wait for at least a month more) strawberries are my favorite fruit for varenie. Leaving aside the result I really love the process of making it. It is one of those great things to do on the weekend around your family or on your own. What you are going to see, smell and taste throughout it is incredibly beautiful.

The technology is the same for many different fruits, so you can safely try in on your favorites. I mostly make apricots, strawberries, cherries, quince and raspberries. Strawberry varenie in particular works really well in kovrizhka and for cheese cookies. From start to the end it takes around 1.5 days, but most of this time is of course inactive. You get seriously involved at the beginning to prepare the fruits and make the syrup.

Then you cook the varenie for 5 minutes, let it rest for 5 hours, cook it for another 5 minutes and let it rest again. This normally repeats for 4-5 times before you get the ready varenie. It is nothing complicated, but as it takes a while it makes sense to work with at least 2.5 kg of fruit at once. The recipe is for one kilo, so you can use the multiple you need.

Home made strawberry jam (varenie)

makes 1.6 kg of varenie

1 kg prepared strawberries (preparation described below)
1 kg sugar
glass jars with screw top lids

Soak the whole strawberries in cold water for 5 minutes, then wash and drain well. Remove the stalks (it is important to do it after washing, otherwise the strawberries soak up lots of water). Leave small and medium berries whole and cut the big berries in half.

Place the prepared fruit into a large heavy base pan, which you will use to make the jam. The volume of the pan should be at least 3 liters for each kilo of fruit.

Make the sugar syrup in another pan. Combine the sugar with enough water for it to get wet (1-1.5 cups). Stir to make sure all the sugar is wet. Set over high heat and bring to boil, without stirring. Skim off scum if any. As soon as it starts bubbling, set the heat to medium-high. It is important not to stir the syrup while it cooks, as it may crystalize. Do not be afraid that it will burn on the bottom. It won't.

Let it bubble away for several minutes till you see the bubbles increasing in size. You need the syrup to reach thick thread stage. If you have a sugar thermometer - the ready syrup should be 105-111C. If you don't have a thermometer you can check the following way. Deep your fingers in cold water. Deep a table spoon into the syrup and lose a drop of syrup on your thumb. Press the drop with your index finger and pull slightly up. The thread should be thick (2-3 mm). If the thread is thin (1 mm or so), the syrup is not done. Keep checking quite often (around once per 30 seconds) not to let the syrup get overdone.

Pour the ready hot syrup into the pan with prepared fruit. Let it stand uncovered for 5 hours. Then start cooking. Do everything without lid. Bring the jam to boil and cook for 5 minutes on low heat. It is better not to stir it if you would like to keep the strawberries whole. Skim off scum if any. Turn off the heat and let it stand for another 5 hours, then repeat. To get it done you will need around 4 - 5 iterations. You can check whether the jam is ready when it is at room temperature. Lose a drop of the syrup onto your thumb nail (traditionally you'd use cold plate but I do it the family way). The drop should hold.

To prepare the jars, make sure they are clean. Pour boiling water from a kettle over the inside and outside of the jars and lids. Being careful not to burn yourself pour all the water out of the jars and lids and let them stand fro 1-2 minutes. Pour the remaining water out if any.

Bring the jam to boil and take off the heat. Ladle the hot ready jam into jars, filling them almost to the top (leave around 1 cm empty). Close the jars tightly (while the jam is still hot) and let cool. While they cool down the lids should sag in a little. Closed jars can be stored for months at room temperature. Once open the jar also normally stores at room temperature for some time, but to prevent any risk, store them in the fridge.


Home made apricot jam (varenie)
Quince marmalade
Kovrizhka, grandma's spice cake (vegan version)
Blackcurrant cheese cookies

Kiev food: a personal guide