“ Type: Jam „
In the manner of the Greek mythological figure of Tantalus (who was chained for eternity next to a stream that receded when he bowed to drink and a fruit tree whose branches swayed out of reach when he reached to pluck a fruit), I am an incurable sweet tooth "cursed" with Type 2 Diabetes. As such, most sugary treats are out of the question.
However, unlike Tantalus, I am not to be denied completely, and once a year, I treat myself to the delightful, delectable and decadent concoction that is Wilkin & Sons Tiptree Little Scarlet Strawberry Conserve. The name itself suggests an illicit summer dalliance and I very much look forward to indulging myself in this annual affair.
A LITTLE ABOUT SCARLET
Wilkin & Sons, a family business established in 1885 and based in Tiptree, Essex (you can visit the factory) is famous the world over as an English jam maker. I don't intend to re-hash the company history here - it can be gleaned quite adequately from their comprehensive web site (www.tiptree.com), which also has a dedicated section (www.littlescarlet.com) for this very special conserve.
The name of the jam derives from the variety of strawberry used to make it, and its rarity and variable harvest is what accounts for its eyebrow-raising price tag. This variety is only grown on Tiptree's estates in the south of England. My jar was snapped up from my local Tesco for £3.37 (no, that's not a typo) for the 340g jar, but to me it is worth every penny.
So what makes this queen of jams so special? and is it worth the significant premium over the plethora of other "fine" strawberry jams which are available at half the price for an equivalent quantity? My view is obviously yes - as an occasional, seasonal treat, but many will baulk at the idea of paying such a handsome price for an apparently pretentious and toffee-nosed collection of berries and sugar.
A JAM OF SUBSTANCE (OR IS THAT SUBSTANCE IN THE JAM?)
Little Scarlet is beautifully crafted and balanced and is an example of jam making at its very best. The ingredients are simple. Little Scarlet strawberries, sugar, a gelling agent (pectin) and a touch of citric acid. That's it. Nothing else. The jam is prepared with 60g of fruit per 100g of jam, which is very high compared to other products (for instance Robinsons has almost half that, and "value" brands even less). According to Tiptree, around sixty of the unique, whole small Little Scarlet berries are packed into every jar. This makes for a substantial and chunky jam with bags of concentrated strawberry flavour.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
On popping open the jar, you are presented with a thick dark reddish brown mass of heady, richly scented strawberry. It smells simply divine. Each of the berries crammed into the jar are no bigger than a five pence piece in diameter - small, but as they say, perfectly formed. The berries practically melt in the mouth and give you a substantial sugar hit - the 67g of sugar per 100g of jam accounts for that - but the sweetness is nicely balanced by the acidity, so it is not sickly - just incredibly more-ish. It's not seedless, but the seeds are too small to be bothersome, and unlike raspberry seeds, they don't seem to have the propensity to get stuck in your molars.
I can just imagine this served with freshly baked scones and clotted cream for a proper English High Tea in a well-heeled Cotswold country tea room. This is jam that has been to charm school, knows which fork to use at the dinner table, and doesn't drop it's "haitches". In other words, a blue-blooded member of the English food aristocracy.
I don't want to waste time writing about this jam, I just want to eat it. However, it seems patently unfair to keep this little secret to myself. Little Scarlet is not an ordinary jam - it's an experience. Every spoonful oozes pedigree. Why on earth would anyone pay over the odds for a strawberry jam? Well, just like someone who has never had a vintage Bordeaux, you won't know what you are missing until you do. Until then, it's easy to dismiss it as an overpriced indulgence. By all means do - that just means there will be more for me. 8^)
© Hishyeness 2009
To visit Tiptree on the perfect day is very important, as you drive into the village and smell the strawberries being turned into Little Scarlet Jam is a
most delicous smell that lingers all over Tiptree.( Hasn't got the same effect
as when they are doing the chutneys and pickles ).
Wilkins jam has been going since 1885 when Arthur Charles Wilkins with two other friends decided to make jams that didnt have any artificial additives or preservatives in them. They are also nutfree.They do use a
small amount of pectin for some jams (less than 1%) to make them set.
They are also suitable for vegetatians.
There are over 1,000 acres of land which is used for the growth of fruit.
The different fruits are hand sorted to make sure only the best go through,
out of every 10 jars made 4 are marmalade!
Wilkins have there own caravan camp for people to stay while they pick the fruits in the summer. ( I'm not completely sure if they still do but they used to let you stay for nothing provided you picked so much fruit per day).
There are many different jams and marmalades to choose from as well as chutneys and pickles. There is also a lovely christmas pudding to be had.
The jam is exported to many different countries including Germany,USA,Japan and France. Many top hotels serve it and Virgin Atlantic
(upper Class Only) do as well.The Queen I believe enjoys the odd pot from time to time!
At Wilkins Jam Factory there is a Museum showing pictures from the past which is very interesting, then there is the Tea Rooms to enjoy a lovely cup of Tiptrees own version of Earl Grey. After having your Afternoon Tea you can then browse in the Gift Shop which has some lovely gifts to take home
including mini pots of different jams!
All in all a lovely way to spend a sunny summer afternoon!
I live in Essex and although normally associated with the M25 and modern shopping outlets there are hidden corners of the county which are steeped in history and are purely agricultural.
One of the best days out we have here is to visit the Tiptree Jam Factory. Here you can watch a superb film on jam making which encompasses the history of the company, you can then enjoy a peruse around the shop where hundreds of jars of preserves, jams, chutneys and curds sit in neat rows looking longingly at you to be taken home to adorn your crumpet or toasted teacake. However the best is yet to come! An English cream tea awaits you, warm scones served on exquisite porcelain tableware with clotted cream and Little Scarlet jam! Tea from a tea pot- all quintessentially English!
If you are unfamiliar with the variety of strawberry I will enlighten you. They are very small and resemble an alpine strawberry. They were a great favourite of James Bond and the jam was mentioned in the book by Ian Flemming called Russia with Love. They have a wonderful intense flavour.
Tiptree jams are the product of Wilkins and Sons who were founded in 1757 and in 1885 the first jams were made. The company is still a family business and they farm over 1000 acres around the Tiptree area in Essex. The fields are planted up with every kind of fruit you can imagine and in summer the views are spectacular. The more popular varieties are stocked by the major supermarkets but you may have to search a bit more to find the more unusual ones like Mulberry. I know that Little Scarlet is found in Waitrose and Sainsbury.
In the summertime seasonal workers toil for long hours from first light to pick the Little Scarlet strawberries which are then made quickly into the jam. One of my daughters did this years harvest and camped on a nearby site which they provide. The sight of the fields of strawberries stretching out into the distance was incredible. It reminded me of a holiday we took down in Cornwall some years back where we stayed in a caravan on a strawberry farm. The caravan was actually in the middle of the field and the field was fringed by Jerusalem Artichokes which were in full flower at the time. They were there to act as wind breaks as they grow really tall. I fell in love with the sight of these and planted them in my garden. They are so prolific they never stop! You wouldn't need any wind breaks in Essex as its pretty mild here but the Tiptree fields take me right back to the Cornish ones!
The harvesting is back breaking and I think it is good to remember this when you purchase the jam. My daughter who is very fit and a long distance runner was shattered by it! The fruits are tiny, you have to pick really carefully so not to bruise the fruit and they are of course at ground level!
So what is the jam like? It has a beautiful aroma of strawberry and there are many berries closely packed in the jars like sardines so you will have many to enjoy in each spoonful. The flavour is rich and intense and is ecstasy on top of a freshly baked scone. With a pot of this jam you can imagine yourself on a sunny day, the scent of fresh strawberries filling the air having a picnic with a checked tablecloth and one of those lovely wicker baskets. Perhaps on the banks of a slowly meandering river. Pims anyone?
I like to sit by the fire in a place a long way from Essex in The Outer Hebrides at Christmas. A toasted teacake with goats butter and Little Scarlet jam does the trick when you come in from a crisp winter walk. It reminds you that summer is just round the corner!
The jam isn't cheap but it is very special. Expect to pay over £3 a pot for it but it makes a unique present for a friend or neighbour. It is made from totally natural ingredients.
I think it is probably the best thing produced here in Essex. It is unique, special and delicious, and it reminds me on this dreary November day of June when rows of alpine strawberries will once again travel to boiling cauldrons to be lovingly poured into jars of Tiptree Little Scarlet jam where they will patiently wait to be released again to adorn the patisserie of your choice. Enjoy!