1 – Buy a strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo). 2 – Revel myself in its good and fun fruit. 3 – Call it by its English name, strawberry tree, because it makes me happy and because I want to make friends with it.
These are my New Year’s resolutions. Everything happened in an instant. A dear family friend, Maura, gave me a jar of home-made strawberry tree jam. I tasted a spoonful, then another. Then I asked her where she had found those delicious berries. The next day I was happily picking arbutus berries in her garden and the very same day I was making jam. While bustling in the kitchen, I realized that I was falling in love with that sweet and grainy berries, beautifully fading from yellow to scarlet.
The arbutus, strawberry tree in English, seems a fairy tree or, better, the tree of snack baskets from The Wizard of Oz… it is, in itself, a magical tree because during autumn and winter it brings proudly on its branches at the very same time the leaves, the white flowers, which symbolize the hospitality, and the colorful and sweetish fruit.
Some curiosities. The strawberry tree is an ancient fruit, with a long history interwoven with legends, myths and rituals. The Romans attributed to arbutus magical powers: even now, in some areas, you can find strawberry tree branches with three berries hung at home to endear good luck. Its flowers were also laid on the graves as a sign of respect for those who had passed away.
During the Italian Risorgimento the strawberry tree was considered a symbol of the national unity. The fact of bringing on its branches, at the same time, the green leaves, the white flowers and the red berries had uplifted the tree, in fact, as a symbol of the national tricolor flag.
Arbutus berries have euphoric and energetic properties, they give a good mood: they contain much sugar that, while the fruit is ripening, becomes partly alcohol… it is therefore not advisable to consume large quantities of mature berries: they can cause you dizziness and drunkenness!
Apparently it is also very easy to grow: it is a generous plant, which does not require much attention and is therefore suitable for those who, like me, don’t have a green thumb. This is the reason I included the strawberry tree in my New Year’s resolutions: let’s start with something simple, uh!? It will be great to have some magic in the orchard, hidden in red and sugary berries, berries that tickle you and your senses when you caress them!
Ingredients for a medium jam jar:
- strawberry tree berries, 750 g
- orange, 1
- brown sugar, 100 g
- brandy, 5 tablespoons
Rinse the berries in cold water, and, while they are still dripping, put them in a thick-bottomed pan (as always I used my cast iron Staub pan, ideal for jam). Sprinkle the berries with the juice of an orange and cook on low heat for about ten minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until the fruit becomes soft.
Now sieve the softened fruit. Crush the berries with a wooden spoon and collect the pulp in a saucepan. There will be a great deal of waste: I eventually had 350 g of smooth, orange and velvety pulp, starting from 750 g of fruit. Return the pulp to the heat and stir in the brown sugar and 5 tablespoons of brandy. Bring back to the boil and keep on stirring with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and ladle into sterilized glass jars.
Sterilization. Pour jam into sterilized jars and close tight. Put the jars in a large pot and cover with water: bring to a boil. Let simmer for 20 minutes and then remove from the heat. Let the jars cool completely in the pan, then remove them from water. You can store them for several months in a dry, cool and dark place.
Taste test. The strawberry tree jam has a special texture, it reminds me of the quince jam, but it also has some nuances of flavor that bring to the mind the fig jam. I find it unique, perfect for breakfast on a slice of toasted bread or in the afternoon as quick snack with some cookies, to give a special touch to a moment of relax.