Ripe, glorious fruit is everywhere I look - in supermarkets, heartland markets, fruit stalls in Housing Board estates - and of course I get the urge to make jam.
After feasting on sweet apricots from Turkey, I decide I must preserve some so I can continue to enjoy the fruit after the short season ends. But while making apricot jam one night after work, I ask myself if I am mad.
First, it is a balmy night and I am standing by the stove stirring jam and sweating.
Second, I feel guilty adding 800g of sugar to 1kg of apricots.
Yet, sugar is important to jam-making because it acts as a preservative, allowing people to enjoy summer fruit way past their peak season.
But it seems a bit silly to be trying to eat healthily and pouring all that sugar into jam. Maybe I should just enjoy the apricots while I can and look forward to next year's harvest.
MAKE IT YOURSELF: CHIA SEED JAM
500g ripe strawberries
2 Tbs plus 1 tsp white or black chia seeds
Honey, maple syrup or agave nectar (optional)
1. Pick through the strawberries, discarding any that are bruised. Replace them with fresh strawberries to make 500g.
2. Wash, drain and pat dry the strawberries, then hull them and cut into quarters.
3. Place the strawberries and chia seeds in a food processor and pulse until you get a chunky texture. Do not puree them. Scrape down the sides of the processor to make sure all the berries get processed.
4. Have a taste and add honey, maple syrup or agave nectar if needed. Pulse again to mix the sweetener into the fruit.
5. Place in a glass mixing bowl, cover with clingwrap and refrigerate for one hour. If the consistency of the jam is too loose, mix in another 1 tsp of chia seeds and refrigerate for another hour.
6. Spoon into clean glass jars. Refrigerate and use up within four to five days.
Makes about 500g of jam
Cooked Cherry Chia Jam
2 Tbs water
Honey, maple syrup or agave nectar (optional)
2 Tbs white or black chia seeds
1. Pick through the cherries, discarding any bruised fruit. Add more to make up 500g.
2. Pit the cherries and halve them. Pulse them in a food processor until you get a chunky texture. Do not puree the berries.
3. Scrape the cherries into a small saucepan, including any juices that come out of the fruit. Add the water. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until it boils. Turn the heat down to medium low. Have a taste and add honey, maple syrup or agave nectar to taste. Cook for five minutes, stirring constantly until the fruit breaks down and becomes soft. Add the chia seeds and cook for 1 minute more.
If you do not have a food processor, place the halved cherries and water into a pot, cook over medium heat until they come to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium low. Crush the cherries with a potato masher or pastry blender until they are the consistency you like. Add the chia seeds and cook for 1 minute more.
4. Turn off the heat, take the pot off the stove and let stand for about 30 minutes to allow the jam to thicken. If you want a stiffer jam, add 1 tsp chia seeds, stir and let sit for another 30 minutes. Spoon into clean glass jars. Refrigerate and use up within eight to 10 days.
Makes about 450g jam
Then I remember something I had filed away long ago - the idea of making jam using chia seeds.
Anyone of a certain age will remember Chia Pets from the 1970s - terracotta figurines of animals that sprout chia leaves which resemble fur or hair. But the seeds are much more interesting than the fad would suggest.
These days, they are thought of as a superfood. They are loaded with antioxidants, Omega-3 fatty acids and fibre, and also contain protein. There are other benefits of eating chia - the lowering of blood cholesterol, regulation of blood sugar and a host of others.
Claims of this and that are well and good, but I tend to look at food practically. Does it taste good? Is it a useful ingredient that will help me improve a dish?
Well, chia seeds do not have much of a taste, but they have a mighty useful property: the seeds absorb a lot of water, acting like a thickener.
This makes them perfect for making pudding and jam.
Imagine jam made with very little or no added sugar and which does not require a long cooking time. All you taste in the finished product is the fruit, not sugar.
Granted, the jam will not last as long, but I can make it often through the summer fruit season and have it with my breakfast oats, swirled into yogurt or spread on toast.
I cannot see any downside except that the jam is full of seeds. If you like a smooth spread, this will not satisfy.
However, if you do not mind crunching into seeds, well, then it is perfect.
Raspberries might not make a good chia jam because the fruit is already full of seeds. With the added chia ones, it might just be over the top.
Strawberries, cherries and blueberries, on the other hand, are perfect. I am also eyeing apricots, plums and kiwis.
It is important to use ripe fruit at their peak. Throw away any bruised specimens and top up with more perfect ones to make up the weight.
If the natural sweetness of the fruit is not enough, add honey, maple syrup or agave nectar to taste.
I have given two versions of the recipe, one raw and one cooked.
The beautifully ripe strawberries I buy from the supermarket are so juicy and sweet that I figure they would be fine just whizzed up with the chia seeds in a food processor. I add just a little honey, less than a tablespoon.
With the cherries, which are now plentiful and beautiful, I do not need added sweetness. Cooking the fruit for less than 10 minutes also intensifies the flavour and the resulting jam has got me hooked.
In less than an hour, it is possible to make about 1kg of jam. That will never be possible using the traditional method.
Oh, and there is another benefit. Because the jam is not meant to be stored for months, just spoon them into very clean glass jars - there is no need to sterilise them first.
I am tempted to use all my chia seeds for jam, but I am going to sprinkle them on salads and use them to thicken soya or coconut milk to make pudding that I can top with fruit.
They can also be used in place of eggs for baking and this will be very useful for vegans, but I would much rather use eggs.
Nonetheless, these little seeds are endlessly useful. Make these jams and you will know what I mean.