An ode to my grandmother and all the wonderful things she has cooked me
What would a girl be without her grandmother? The one who would draw the curtains as the sun beat down on sunny afternoons, taking us into bed to tell us one neverending story after the other, while outside the shadows grew longer and the post-lunch lull was in the air. No matter that sleep was never in sight for us, and even though she might have wanted to nap, it was inevitable that she will spend her afternoon spinning one story after another. And yet she would do it patiently, never tiring and never running out of stories.
What would I do without the overflowing warmth and affection that is always in abundance when we visit? Regardless that I am pushing 30 now, she is always quick to grab me in an embrace and smother a dozen sloppy kisses on my cheeks. No matter that I am married and with a home/kitchen of my own, no visit to her home is complete without her cooking something I deeply love — one of those famed dishes that only turns out the tastiest when she gets her hands in on it.
What would I be without those memories of seasonal goodies? Gajar Halwa only in December, Besan Laddoos at Diwali-time, Til Ladoos at Sankranti — made ahead like a labour of love, packed neatly and sent with any unsuspecting messenger travelling Bangalore-wards.
What would I be without her painstaking love and effort? In embarking on laborious tasks like chopping kilos of strawberries, macerating them in large pots with lots of sugar, cooking them in a heavy pot, stirring continuously for hours on end until they broke down completely and made the super sticky and sweet homemade jam, that I have come to love and expect every new year? I’d be a sad, deprived girl. That’s what I’d be without it all.Ammama’s famed jam has made an appearance on my blog before. It’s more like a semi-liquid, stewed strawberry preserve, not really a hard-set jam. Free of artificial preservatives, flavours and coloured only by the jewels of fruit that fill it, this jam has a wonderfully sweet yet tangy taste, sticky fluid consistency that has a unique way of drenching a slice of toast in its juicy fruitness.Every year ammama would send me a bottle, come hell or high water, until I moved to Goa. It’s harder to find a messenger coming this way at just this time of year, you see. So I had to resort to making my own jam. I made my first batch last year after making a few calls, consulting with her on quantities and figuring out it was too dead-simple not to give this one a try.
Her trick? A 1:1 proportion of strawberries to sugar, and lots of patient and loving stirring on a low flame. I can safely say I have tried my best, and while the jam is all that I think jam should be, it is not exactly what ammama’s jam is. For that I would need the wisdom of 70+ years, fluffy white hair, an adorable twist in my walk and a heart full of selfless love.Yeah, that’s not happening any time soon. But one tries, and since food has an unbelievable way of making age gaps vanish, distances shrink and memories blend into one, today, as I slathered a bit of this fresh jam on my poee, I was momentarily transported to her dining table on a summer morning, lounging in my PJs as she told us yet another story from a time when she was young.
What you need
1.5 cups of roughly chopped strawberries
1 cup sugar (last year I used ammama’s 1:1 proportion, this year I toned it down a bit. If you like your jam super sweet stick with the 1:1 ratio, but if like me, you prefer it on the lighter side, cut the sugar down just a bit — not too much as that is the basis on which jam gets jammified)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (Optional. Last year I added a teaspoon of Balsamic Vinegar and the effect of both was a wonderful dark tinge and deep flavour. Take your pick or leave the additive out completely.)
How you can make it — Chop the strawberries up roughly into smallish pieces
– Measure the pieces out and add sugar, proportionately
– Mix it all up well and tip into a heavy bottomed pot
– Put it on a medium flame and let the sugar dissolve completely
– Once the sugar has melted down fully, turn the flame down and begin to stir it gently
– The strawberries will take about 15-20 minutes to break down and stew
– Stir continuously to ensure the sugar doesn’t burn or stick
– In about 17-20 minutes test the consistency of the sugar syrup. When it forms a neat unbroken string between your thumb and index finger, the jam is done
– Add in the vanilla extract and mix well and take off the heat
– Allow the jam to cool, it will solidify just a little bit and get that preserve-like consistency
– Transfer into a clean, dry bottle and store in the refrigerator
– Because of the slightly liquidy consistency, this jam makes a good spread on top of cakes and puddings too
– I have also used it as crush in milkshakes and smoothies
– I haven’t tried it myself, but my aunt also made a similar jam with apples and some assorted fruit