PUBLISHED: 16:31 11 May 2015 | UPDATED: 16:31 11 May 2015
With the first strawberries appearing, it's a great time to make jam, says our food writer Mary Kemp from East Harling.
I only really remember eating homemade jam while I was growing up. Made in batches, then labelled and dated in Mum’s handwriting; it was one of the things my mother did without fail every year, alongside the making of chutneys and jars of pickles – always enough to last us through the winter. It may seem a real performance to make jam, but it’s one of the “turn on some good music or Radio Four and listen to The Archers with a glass of wine” moments!
With the first British strawberries in the shops, I invited professional jam-maker extraordinaire Sarah Savage, owner of Essence Foods which is based at Salle, near Reepham, to join me in the kitchen to help me make my first batch of jam of 2015. Sarah creates the most amazing range of jams, and with her wonderful wit and soft fruit wisdom, she makes jam-making simple and achievable as she shares her incredible knowledge this month.
Sarah’s rhubarb, strawberry and vanilla jam
2kg rhubarb, trimmed, rinsed and chopped into 4cm chunks
500g strawberries, hulled and sliced vanilla pod split
1.66kg jam sugar
1 Prepare all the ingredients and place in a large bowl or preserving pan, cover with a cloth and leave to macerate overnight to soften the fruit.
2 Over a low heat, start to warm the pan, dissolving the sugar slowly, stirring continuously so you don’t catch the base of the pan.
3 When all the sugar has dissolved, gently bring the pan to the boil, then turn the heat down to a moderate temperature, and keep cooking and stirring for 10 to 15 minutes until you have a smooth consistency. Test for setting point, and pour into warm sterlised jars.
Other ideas for jam flavour combinations:
Gooseberry and elderflower
Blackcurrant and almond
Raspberry and Norfolk lavender
Strawberry and vanilla
Loganberry and lemon
Sarah’s jam-making top tips:
Ensure the jars and lids are clean, dry and sterilised prior to filling. Take care handling the hot jars.
With rhubarb and strawberries, if possible, macerate in sugar overnight prior to heating to release the natural fruit juices.
When you first start cooking, gently warm the fruits with the sugar to dissolve the sugar in the natural fruit juices and slowly bring to a rolling boil. If you try to bring the pan to the boil too quickly the sugar will burn and turn the batch bitter.
Only use clean washed fruit with no mould or leaves. They don’t need to be perfect to look at, just clean and in good condition.
Sugar is a natural preservative. You can cut down the amount of sugar in a recipe, it will invariably taste better, but you will be reducing the shelf-life.
Rhubarb and elderflowers both naturally have a tendency to ferment. When using rhubarb, to ensure a sufficient sugar level to preserve to prevent fermentation, you could also add lemon juice which is a natural mould inhibitor. For elderflower, use elderflower cordial or extract rather than picking fresh elderflowers and putting them straight in the pan with the fruit; citric acid must be added to prevent fermentation (as with homemade elderflower cordial).
Jam sugar is granulated sugar with pectin mixed in. If you are confident making your own apple pectin stock or relying on the pectin contained in lemon pips (cook with the fruit in a muslin bag and remove bag prior to bottling) you can use granulated sugar.
To test for setting point, drop a little jam on a cold saucer. Allow to cool for a minute then push gently with your fingertips. If the jam crinkles, the setting point has been reached.
When bottling, ensure the lid goes on straight away rather than leaving unlidded and open to bacteria.
Ginger panna cotta
A quick, easy pudding, served with a spoonful of Sarah’s lovely rhubarb, strawberry and vanilla jam on top.
3½ leaves of gelatine
300ml double cream
4cm fresh root ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
100g caster sugar
1 Soak the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water.
2 In a medium saucepan, bring the double cream and milk to the boil with the sliced ginger and sugar. Leave to infuse for five minutes.
3 Remove the gelatine from the water and squeeze out some of the excess liquid, then add to the hot cream and whisk until dissolved.
4 Strain through a sieve into a jug and pour into the pudding pots, coffee cans or ramekins. Refrigerate for at least six hours or overnight.