One of the things that I particularly love about jam, is picking the fruit first.
A summer holiday high point for the children when we go to stay with their grandmother in Wales, is going to the local fruit farm, which does Pick Your Own. We spend a happy hour or so picking (and munching) and come back with bowlfuls of gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, black and red currants, tayberries. Then it’s time to turn the kitchen into a jam factory. The smell is just fantastic!
We’ve planted a gooseberry bush and a couple of raspberry bushes into a tiny patch of London garden, and this year managed to achieve about one pot of jam out of the lot of them. Hmm, not much, but it was very nice!
Try to get the jam up to temperature as fast as you can. It helps to keep the taste of the fruit fresh, and the colour bright. This is why it’s a good idea to heat the sugar in the oven before you add it to the fruit.
I’ve always found that the most difficult bit of all is working out when the jam is set.
The classic way of doing it, is putting a saucer into the freezer. To test the jam, you a dab of the boiling fruit mixture onto the cold saucer. Leave it for a moment and then push the edge with your finger. If the surface wrinkles, bingo, it’s ready.
This is the theory. In practice, I find that I rush backwards and forwards between the stove and the freezer, getting more and more upset that nothing seems to be happening.
And then I used a thermometer! Ha – what a breakthough! No more anxiety. Setting point is 104°C/ 220°F. Can’t believe I didn’t do that before, but there you go. Hooray for technology.
A little note about pectin
Some types of fruit contain high levels of pectin. This means that when you make them into jam or jelly, they will set easily. Raspberries, tayberries, gooseberries for example. Fruit containing low levels of pectin, like strawberries, blackberries and cherries are difficult to set.
In these cases you could do a few things: one is to use preserving sugar that will help, or you could add some fruit with a higher pectin content, like apples, redcurrants or gooseberries.
I was recently given a huge load of a mysterious type of greeny-yellow plum from someone’s tree. ‘Hooray – jam!’ I thought. The plums turned out to be thoroughly ungrateful and showed no interest in setting, so we added some gooseberries and hey presto, it worked brilliantly. I like mixtures of things and this one was a good one!
Portrait of Lady Gertrude, blunderbuss and badger by Jose.