By Gerhardus Geldenhuis
My homemade strawberry syrup in the fridge is a little less every day and I know because I keep a close eye on it. When it comes to my strawberry syrup, my right hand has a built-in scale that weighs exactly how much is left when I’m done using it and immediately knows it’s lighter when I want to use it again the next day. My tenant doesn’t use sugar so it’s not her. It’s a crisis and the police say they don’t get involved in civil cases so I’m dependent on myself to catch the thief.
I only really started buying and eating strawberries in England and about a few years ago started picking and processing my own. The farm where I pick it does not need to pay an installment on a Massey Furgeson tractor and so the price is very fair and cheaper than I can get it in the store. My hard-working Afrikaner genes usually come through strongly and I pick hopelessly too many strawberries and other fruits. My thoughts grind and fizz about all the delicious things I’m going to make with the blackberries, raspberries, black and red currants, cherries, Morello cherries and berries that don’t even have names in Afrikaans.
When I start to process it, I wonder about the excess of labor nobility and the little bit of strawberry and other berries suddenly turned into a mountain, and there is only so much jam that one can eat in a year even if you create it with a tablespoon on your toast.
The excess of fruit means I then look for easier recipes to turn what hasn’t become jam into products so I don’t have to throw anything away. There are few things more tragic than throwing away once-edible fruit. One of the easiest ways to process an excess of fruit is to make a fruit syrup from it, which you can later mix with sparkling water for a delicious drink.
A recipe for homemade strawberry syrup
Strawberry syrup is probably the easiest to make. Wash your strawberries, cut out the leaves and cut each strawberry in half. Weigh the strawberries you have finished processing and then weigh the same weight in cane sugar. I say cane sugar specifically because in Europe you get beet sugar which mostly tastes exactly the same but which can give a slight ring when you make soft drink syrups. Get a deep glass bowl and sprinkle some sugar on the bottom, put a layer of strawberries in and then another layer of sugar and finish with a layer of sugar. I usually process about 2 kg of strawberries, so that’s 2 kg of sugar. Put a lid on and leave the bowl in a cool room overnight.
Prepare yourself for a total change the next morning, you will be greeted with a bowl full of red syrup with strawberries inside. Give it a good mix because there will be a lot of undissolved sugar and leave it for another day or two. In the hot South African weather I would recommend keeping it in the fridge after the first 24 hours and stirring it frequently to help as much sugar as possible dissolve. Do not leave it too long because it will ferment even with all the sugar, so you can process it after 24 hours. When you are ready to start processing them, pour off the syrup, put the strawberries in muslin cloth and squeeze out the juice.
I dry the squeezed strawberries in my lukewarm oven which makes a delicious snack and is surprisingly not that terribly sweet. I leave the undissolved sugar in a bowl and let it dry out and crystallize and then you get the most beautiful pink sugar which is also a nice sweetness. I store the syrup in the fridge because it goes down relatively quickly if you don’t pasteurize it.
My favorite use of the syrup is to mix it with a little milk. If you miss Nesquik then I promise you, after you taste the syrup you will think it was always just red cement powder. You can pasteurize the strawberry syrup by putting the bottle with strawberry syrup in cold water which you then slowly heat until it reaches 82 – 86 °C and then keep it there for 5 minutes, after which you can take it out and let it cool. Do not put the glass bottles directly on the bottom of the pot, but put a clean dishcloth at the bottom of the pot. If you have a wire rack that fits your jars even better, and loosen the stopper and keep the neck of the bottle above the water. The syrup expands when it gets hot so we try to prevent the bottle from bursting.
Debbie, who is now my tenant, doesn’t really drink milk either, so I was surprised when she came from the store with 2 liters of milk the other day. I then asked about it and she then mentioned that she started making strawberry milk because it’s just as delicious and she wanted to replace the milk because she already feels guilty because she can’t stop with it. It was never a thief then and proof that everyone has a soft spot for sugar, you just have to get it in the right form.
Another big favorite of mine is ginger syrup. Here is the recipe I use.
- 5 kg of sugar
- 3 kg of water
- 2 kg whole ginger
- 100 g of citric acid
- 300 g of citrus, limes (the best) or lemon
- Combine the sugar, water and citric acid in a large pot and heat slowly
- Grate the whole ginger into the pot with skin and all, but without the mud.
- Cut the citrus into slices and add.
- Bring the pot to the boil and cook gently for a maximum of 5 minutes.
- Leave it overnight.
- Filter by pouring it through a cloth or a fine kitchen sieve will also work, bottle and seal.
The ginger syrup is nice and sharp at the beginning. I enjoy drinking it just like that with cold water, you can brighten it up further by crushing a leaf or two of fresh mint and adding it to your glass. If you have your own bubble machine then this is also a delicious alternative to regular tap water. The CO2-absorption is partly determined by the temperature of the water, so the colder your water is the more bubbles you will get.
If you like it a little bitter, get a lemon variety with a nice thick peel and cut the peel into smaller pieces. This will help extract more of the bitter from the lemon, so the finer the more bitter. Personally, I add very little bitter to my ginger syrup, but the choice is yours.
An involuntary experiment during the pandemic meant that a few of the ginger syrup bottles sat in the back of my pantry for a year. The ginger syrup has developed a delicious harmony, like an aged wine, and is really wonderful. This is the main reason why I make so many, because then I have enough bottles to store away.
There is much more to be said about fruit combinations, pectin and how you get rid of it, the influence of heat on taste, the use of different fruit acids to affect the taste, but that will have to wait until the next column. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about any interesting fruit syrups you’ve made. Feel free to contact me at [email protected].