Wednesday, 10 August 2011

How to make jam

It’s easy to be nostalgic about jam.

As a staple of childhood picnics, jam sandwiches and tarts trigger memories of lazy summer days and as grown-ups, what better way to start a summer weekend than a huge hunk of toasted sourdough slathered with a generous helping of homemade jam.

Making your own jam is delicious and satisfying. At this time of year, the British countryside provides us with plenty of soft fruit; raspberries, gooseberries and plums are all ready to be picked and the blackberries are ripening early too! If you’ve grown fruit yourself, there’s hopefully enough for a jar or two of sticky jam to preserve that sunny feeling for months to come. And if you haven’t grown your own, there’s plenty of fruit available to be foraged and a wide variety available at farmer’s markets.

Jam has rather unjustly developed a reputation for being difficult to make at home but if you follow the instructions below, it should be easy peasy.

Here’s an easy recipe for a rich greengage (plum) Jam which I made with fruit found by the River Arun:

1kg greengages

1 kg Sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

Small knob of butter

Around 4 clean jam jars.

1. In preparation for your wrinkle test, put a small plate into the freezer.

2. Sterilise your jars by boiling in water then leaving to air dry, making sure you don’t touch them with your hands. Making jam is an excellent way of reusing glass jars.

3. Wash your greengages and pat them dry with kitchen paper. Be careful, some may be squishy.

4. Remove the stones

5. Put the fruit and lemon juice into a pan, heat very gently and stir lightly. Soon the juices will start to run and the greengages will become tender. Mash a little with a potato masher and ensure the fruit is suitably softened as the introduction of the sugar will begin to harden them.

6. Add the sugar and continue to warm very gently. The sugar needs to dissolve completely else you’ll get little crystals forming and your jam will be crunchy. Add a tiny amount of butter, around the size of a thumbnail. This will reduce the froth on the top of your jam.

7. Once the sugar has dissolved and the butter is mixed in, you can bring the jam to a rapid boil, stirring frequently. Pectin starts to react at 104 degrees and your jam will take between 6 and 10 minutes to reach the setting point so as soon as the jam has begun to boil, start timing. After 6 minutes you can do your first wrinkle test to check whether the jam has set.

8. Remove the pan from the heat and drop a teaspoon of jam onto your cooled plate. Leave for around 30 seconds then lightly push the little puddle of jam with a finger. If the jam wrinkles, the setting point has been reached, if not, return the pan to the boil and try again in another 90 seconds or so.

9. Once your wrinkle test is positive, remove the pan from the heat and skim the froth off the surface with a metal spoon. Allow to cool for 15 minutes then pour into the warm, sterilised jars. You can fill right to the top as the jam will shrink very slightly upon cooling. Cover with wax discs and cellophane or tightly screw on your lids and leave to cool overnight.

10. Once the jars have cooled, label with the date and decorate as you wish; think doilies, pretty fabrics and brightly coloured ribbons.

11. You can freeze your jam or it will keep in the fridge for around 3 weeks, although you’ll discover that it will never last that long!

Now have fun! Experiment with whatever fruit you can find! Jam sandwiches fuelled our outdoor adventures when we were little, so be adventurous now. Mix up flavours: peach and raspberry are a smashing combination or you could even try adding some herbs or spices; apricot and cardamom make an unusual mix, or perhaps raspberry and basil. Be creative!

TIP: Rather than immediately making jam with a glut of summer fruit, freeze the fruit straight after picking and make jam at a later date. It will taste infinitely better and you can make it up on a rainy day rather than in the summertime when you should be outside making the most of the weather!

TIP: If you continue to have trouble getting your jam to set, consider the following:

· Make sure your fruit is dried thoroughly after washing to keep excess water to a minimum.

· Add some lemon peel to your recipe along with the lemon juice; citrus peel contains a very high concentration of pectin.

· Try using Jam Sugar which contains added pectin (NB. this is different to Preserving Sugar which has no added pectin but is made of larger sugar crystals to help reduce froth).

TIP: It’s the pectin, a natural gelling agent in the fruit, which causes the jelly-like consistency of the jam. Pectin levels differ between fruits so be aware of this when choosing your flavours. Apples, plums, raspberries, gooseberries and citrus fruits are all high in pectin so mix these with lower pectin varieties. The allotment website have a summary of pectin levels here. And never mind if you still can’t get the consistency right, runny jam makes a fabulous sauce for ice cream!

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