A Sudden Thought!

I’ve been sat here on a rather gloomy Easter Sunday sorting through a few old recipe books and have come across one of those old housekeeping encyclopedias that were so common back in the 50’s and 60’s. What a hoot; it’s so sexiest, you just wouldn’t get away with the language these days. It goes on a about the housewife should do this and the housewife should do that. I must show my wife, she’ll have a fit! Still I must say the jam making section at the back is really quite good. Some lovely old fashioned recipes and a good introduction on the basics of jam making. You know what, that’s suddenly made me realise, I’ve written all sorts of things since starting this blog, but I’ve yet to give you my take on the basics of jam making. How bizarre is that! Well, I guess there’s no time like the present so here goes.

jam making

Successful jam making starts with good ingredients

Now, most fruits and certain vegetables can be used for jam making. The first rule is jam will always set provided it has sufficient pectin. Pectin is a substance occurs naturally in fruit but there is more in under-ripe than in ripe fruit and for this reason it is a good idea to include some under-ripe fruit in any jam making escapade. You can easily test the pectin levels in fruit, just follow my simple method.

jam making

Successful pectin test, means good jam making!

Pectin is quite easily destroyed by prolonged cooking, therefore when testing the set of a jam it’s best to take the pan off the hob. It’s quite easy to end up chasing an ever diminishing set. What do I mean? Well you test for set, it’s not quite there so you boil more and it gets worse not better. That’s because you’re destroying the pectin. Far better if the set is not quite there to add some bottled pectin rather than over-boil the fruit and lose colour and flavour. There is no shame – far better when jam making to have good jam with a little outside help, than a load of caramelised gunk fit for nothing. Of course certain fruits are known to be short of pectin and to get them to set, fruit juice from a fruit rich in pectin can be added rather than bottled pectin. If a fruit is known to be low in pectin it’s best to use as little water as possible at the fruit boiling stage.

Acid is also needed in jam making; firstly, so that the pectin can work and secondly, to prevent the sugars from crystallizing. If fruits are used which are short of acid, add lemon juice (1 tbsp), citric acid (1 tsp) or red currant or gooseberry juice (5 fl. oz.) for each pound of the fruit. Pectin is normally needed when using strawberries, rhubarb and apricots. Acid is needed by peaches, eating apples and figs. Certain varieties of plums are also short of pectin.

Choose sound dry fruit, cut out the damaged parts, take off any stalks and leaves, remove the stones. Put the fruit in the preserving pan, add water and acid, according to the recipe. The fruit should always be boiled without the sugar added and a lid tightly on the saucepan. Boil as gently as possible to release the pectin and soften the fruit, but preserve the flavour and colour. For most fruit 20 minutes is plenty. Strawberries and raspberries require much less. The amount of sugar needed depends on the fruit but is usually about 1 pound to 1 pound of fruit. Once the fruit has boiled add the sugar and bring to the boil as rapidly as possible and with the lid off. You will know if all is well as the jam will boil like it is “fizzing.” Leave this “rolling boil” as it is called in the trade for 5 minutes, then start to test for set by placing some in a cold saucer and allowing it to cool.

jam making

A rolling boil means successful jam making!

Draw the finger across the top and if the surface wrinkles there is a skin and the jam will set. As mentioned earlier do not leave the jam boiling away while you test for the set as this will obviously over cook it. If set is not achieved then boil a little more. If still unsuccessful then add some bottled pectin as per the instructions on the bottle. It is possible to fiddle with adding more sugar or acid to see if you can get a natural set, and sometimes the lack of either of these is the problem and no amount of extra pectin will help. This is not the norm though if you have followed a tried and tested recipe; the problem will almost certainly be lack of pectin. Of course if you are ground breaking new recipes then you may need to muck about with sugar and acid, but if so you are unlikely to be reading this anyway, as you will probably know more about jam making than me!

Okay, once you have a good set skim off the scum and pour into dry jars. These should have been sterilized before hand, preferably in a pressure cooker as per my method. It is easiest to do the filling with a small jug. If the jam is for show then cover at once with a circle of waxed paper and top with a piece of cellophane held down with a rubber band. If on the other hand you are jam making for sale or your own consumption then screw a pop-up seal lid on tight. Clean away any spilled jam with a damp cloth. My favourite bit is lining all the filled jars up in a row and waiting for them to go pop as the pop-up seal button pops down into place – how sad am I?

So there you have it my overview of jam making. Of course there are many more nuances I could add, but hopefully you’ll pick them up from other blog posts I write, alternatively have a look at the “Quick Tips” section there’s lots of good stuff in there. Lastly, make sure you store your jam in a cool dark place and as long as you have sterilised your jars properly it should keep for at least a year.

Well I think I’ll get back to my pile of old recipe books. As the new season is nearly upon us it’s time to look for some inspiration – happy jam making folks!

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