Birthsday and strawberry jam

strawberry jam from the Taste of Memories countryside kitchenSoon I am going to celebrate my 35th birthday. This number is a kind of mystic for me, maybe because it seems to be an important milestone in life. I am an optimistic person so I presume I will live 100 years- at least I am sure I have enough plans for further 70 years so that I couldn’t get bored not even for a day- that would mean I lived already one third of my life. I decided to stop for a second to look back on my way and then look around where I am and where my way led me. I think I can allow myself a little bit of sentimentalism, after all, I have birthday!
I remember how long I was looking for a home, where I can experience the real essence of this word. I was longing for a life close to the nature, but while I was living in different parts of different big cities I got even further and further away of it. forest in the Hungarian countryside forest in the Hungarian countrysideTime was never enough and life was like a marathon which I have to run but I don’t know where the finish line is or whether it exists at all. Sometimes some beautiful pictures popped up for a second: making jam in the summer kitchen, picking fruits into a basket, wheat field with blue cornflowers and horses running freely on the hill-side – but these pictures seemed to be more an illusion then a reality that once will come true. It is strange and sometimes even surreal to realize that these pictures are the moments of my “here and now”. My neighbor’s wheat field is full with corn flower, horses are grazing on the hill-side and I am standing in the summer kitchen cooking jam.
An 80 year-old house which always needs and will need some renovation and which is just perfect in its imperfection. This small house becomes even smaller for a weekend, when Gergő and his brother rebuild our tile-stove which was untouched for 40 years. We cover everything with plastic foil and move completely into our bedroom. Everything will be covered by the fine clay powder but the old-new tile stove is beautiful, you cannot recognize its age since they have hidden broken tiles on the back side. We allowed ourselves a luxury and changed the old door to a glass-door so we will be able to enjoy not only the warmth but the sight of the fire in winter. Most probably we can pick cherries from our own trees this weekend and yesterday we ate our very first lamb’s lettuce from our vegetable garden. We pick cherries with my mother in my grandmother’s orchard where it always gets ripe earlier then in ours, we laugh and telling old stories. We have enough time.

Last week Marika our neighbor gave us a bowl full of fresh strawberries, this week we got a dozen of eggs. Ani brings a plate of freshly made “barátfüle”, one of my favorite dishes and cuts off some roses for me so I can put them into a vase. For me it is still unusual and touching this natural and unselfish way of giving and I am continuously looking for opportunities to give back although I feel that they don’t expect me to do so.
I like my “here and now”. If I had a birthday wish I would like to be able to enjoy the actual present moments as much as I am doing now. I don’t need anything else. Maybe only one thing. Strawberry jam, made in our summer kitchen, filled into glass jars, covered with a piece of fabric and tied with a ribbon so it looks exactly like a birthday present.

Strawberry jam according to a recipe from a 1930’s Hungarian cookbook
Since there are no traditions of strawberry jam-making in my family, I took my old cookbooks and looked for a recipe which doesn’t require 1 kilogram sugar to the same amount of fruits. (really horrible idea when I consider strawberry’s sweetness!) I reduced the amount of sugar completely and after tasting I would say that a hint of lemon would make it even better.

1000 g strawberries
250-300 g sugar

According to the old recipe you should break the fruit through a sieve, I simply crushed it with a blender. Put the fruit in a pot and cook it until it is reduced. Add sugar and cook it for further 10-15 minutes. Fill the jam into clean glass jars, close them and put them into a pot filled with water and cook them slowly for further 40 minutes. After that put the jars into to a basket or box and wrap it into a blanket so they keep their temperature long and cool down really slowly.

strawberry jam from the Taste of Memories countryside kitchenstrawberry jam from the Taste of Memories countryside kitchenstrawberry jam from the Taste of Memories countryside kitchenstrawberry jam from the Taste of Memories countryside kitchenstrawberry jam from the Taste of Memories countryside kitchenstrawberry jam from the Taste of Memories countryside kitchen

Judit Neubauer

Judit Neubauer is a food photographer, chef and writer living in a small village in Northwestern Hungary. Her bilingual blog, Taste of Memories is about life in the Hungarian countryside. While she is bringing new life into the 90 year-old house and orchard of 18 fruit trees she cooks and bakes her family’s old recipes and tries to preserve traditions and old knowledge about how to live in rhythm and harmony with nature.