7 essential tips for making the best jam this year
PUBLISHED: 07:00 15 August 2020
Mary Kemp on the joys of preserving, with advice from Sarah Savage of Norfolk’s Essence Foods
While growing up I only really remember eating homemade jams. Made in batches, then labelled and dated in mum’s hand-writing; it was one of the things my mother did without fail every year, alongside making chutneys and jars of pickles, always enough to last us through the winter.
It’s jam and chutney making season now and the box of jars and lids I have collected over the year now come into their own, though it’s a bit like socks; I seem to end up with a few odds and ends that don’t match! I have apples, pears, tomatoes, plums and mulberries to transform into jars and bottles of winter joy, and the promise of boxes of strawberries and raspberries to fill my larder full of jam.
It may seem a real performance to make jam, but it’s not; as I say at cookery demonstrations it’s just one of the ‘turn on Radio 4 and listen to The Archers with a glass of wine moments”. It takes time to prepare the fruit and weigh the ingredients, you then need time to watch the stages till you achieve that perfect set.
At this time of year, I read lots of books and gather the articles I have saved from magazines and newspapers looking for new ideas and recipes. Many old recipes will talk about quantities of fruit in 10lbs or more, and a mountain of sugar, but you may find it’s so much easier and less daunting making jam in smaller quantities and often with the odd leftover punnet of fruit.
Successful jam-making of course depends on the quality of the ingredients, but more importantly the interaction of three things in the right proportion; sugar, pectin and acid. All fruits contain these, but a jam maker will always add more sugar and sometime more acid and pectin. For instance, blackcurrants are full of pectin and strawberries are not, so adjustments are in order.
Homemade strawberry jam is wonderful, though it can be one of the most temperamental jams to make, as it doesn’t always set. But if you add a small amount of homemade redcurrant juice to your recipe, the set will be much more reliable and the deep red juice will enhance the flavour and often the colour. Failing this, the addition of pectin or the juice of two lemons will help make all the difference.
The easiest jam to make is raspberry jam. It’s so quick that you can have a batch of scones baking at the same time both fresh and ready to eat. The recipe I use, which I think is an old WI one, used equal quantities of fruit to sugar, although I have cut the sugar down to two thirds of the weight of the fruit.
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As you sterilise the jars in the oven for about 10 minutes, use the oven to warm the sugar through. Cook the raspberries in a stainless steel or copper saucepan for around four minutes, until the juices begin to run. Then add the warm sugar and bring the jam to the boil, stirring over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved, and boil steadily for five minutes, stirring well. Test the set and then pour into sterilised jars.
There are several ways to test the set, and lots of wonderful gadgets you can buy, but the best is the way my mother did; place a spoonful on a cold saucer. It’s not very scientific but it works perfectly, as do many of these wonderful old recipes.
For those who are starting your jam making journey I asked Sarah Savage from Essence Foods to give me her top hints and tips to help you create jars of summer sunshine and flavour.
Essential advice from Sarah Savage, Essence Foods
The key to making outstanding bottled products is using good quality ingredients in the first place. Don’t be tempted to use any ingredient which has ‘gone too far’. We don’t use any pulps or purees in our products and only use natural ingredients.
We use sugar, but less of it, so our fruit content in the Essence Botanicals conserves and marmalades is higher and the herbs, flowers and botanicals work their magic enhancing nature’s flavours.
We have been cooking with lavender for over 27 years and simply love it whether it is lavender scones in the café served with our blueberry and lavender conserve or the strawberry and lavender conserve. We grow our own lavender, bay and rosemary.
When making savoury products, try to think about what you will eat the finished product with. Try to remember it is an accompaniment to another product so rather than overpowering what you are eating it with it should enhance it.
If you are reusing jars, they really must be scrupulously clean and sterilised (including the lid). Make sure there is no detergent in the jar or the lid. Sterilising washed jars is best done in an oven at about 100C until there are no signs of any moisture or water droplets in the jar. When the product you have made is ready, bottle into the warm jars and seal straight away. Moisture and air are the two things which may cause the product to deteriorate.
Also, make sure the jam, marmalade or chutney is thoroughly cooked and has enough preserving element in the recipe. If you are making a very low or sugar-free recipe, pasteurise it after you have bottled it. If you are making chutney, you must make sure there is enough good quality vinegar to preserve the chutney. Good quality vinegar will make a huge difference to the quality and flavour of the finished product, so please give it the attention it deserves; this is why we use Aspall’s products where we can.
Whether you decide to make something wonderful and sweet or you like things savoury and maybe with some chilli, enjoy trying new things and open a world of flavour. Have fun!