Let’s address what sounds like that unnecessary first step: macerating strawberries. Maceration is a process by which fruits are tossed in sugar, lemon and flavourings—in the case of strawberries it’s usually rum, balsamic vinegar or vanilla. Maceration does two things: 1) Added sugar draws out the natural sugars from the strawberries, as a consequence intensifying its fruity flavour. 2) The lemon juice and sugar also soften the fruit. As the berries soften and steep in their fragrant sugar bath, they leach out a lot of their colour and sweetness. Wine-making follows a similar maceration process to bring out the vivid colour and flavour compounds of grapes. The longer the strawberries macerate, the more liquid you’ll see collected in the bowl. I would recommend anywhere between 10 – 5 hours for best results.
Strictly speaking, this isn’t even jam. Traditional jams follow a 2:1 (or god forbid, a 1:1) fruit to sugar ratio. Sugar acts as a preservative as well as aids in setting the jam (along with pectin present in the fruit). Because we reduce quantities drastically—a mere ¼ cup sugar for 1 ½ kilos of fruit, which basically in ratios is 30:1—this won’t yield a hard-set consistency. Spreadable but loose, almost like a compote. It also won’t keep for very long in the fridge – two weeks for sure, I wouldn’t risk longer.
Flavourings wise, lemon is crucial here to retain the vibrant colour of the berries. Cooking has the tendency to mar their beautiful redness but lemon juice counters that. Here’s a neat trick – adding a smidgen of vanilla, albeit unorthodox, adds sweetness to the jam. I don’t know how from a scientific point of view but my theory is that since you associate strawberries, vanilla and sugar with desserts, the combination somehow tricks your mind into believing that this is sweeter than it actually is. My husband seems to agree with my lopsided theory and that’s enough backing for me to put it into writing.
LOW-SUGAR MACERATED STRAWBERRY JAM
- 1 ½ kilos of strawberries, hulled and quartered
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean
- If some of the strawberries are bigger, chop them up to roughly the same size pieces.
- If using a vanilla bean, halve it lengthwise. Add strawberries, sugar, vanilla bean or extract and lemon juice to a bowl. Toss through, taking your time here to make sure all the pieces are coated. Refrigerate overnight or for anywhere between 10-5 hours. Stir the strawberries once or twice in its marinade if possible.
- Add the strawberries along with the syrup in the bowl to a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over a medium-high heat stirring occasionally. You’re looking for the syrup to thicken and the strawberries to break down.
- It will start to foam a little but if there’s too much, skim some off. This jam won’t set thick. Reduce as much as you’d like. (It will continue to thicken as it cools and also as it sits in the fridge.)
- Once your jam has reduced to the right consistency, cool to room temperature before decanting into jars. Keeps well refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.