Making Jam is not difficult if you remember two important things. One, there are a lot of names for jam and they all refer to slightly different consistencies and styles and there is nothing to stop you changing the name of your preserve to match the result.
For instance, a conserve has a looser set and larger pieces of fruit than a jam while a fruit cheese is so stiff that you can pretty much cut it out of the jar and slice it with a knife.
The second thing to remember is to watch it all the time. The time difference between lovely and burnt can be very short indeed. If you need to answer the phone then turn off the heat.
Boiling jam is hot, very hot indeed. It can spit all over your kitchen and clothes (and stain). So before you start think about having heat proof gloves or tea towels ready. Also think about having a wooden chopping board to hand for when you bottle the jam. If you put a hot jar of hot jam onto a cool, granite work surface then there is a good chance that the bottom of your jar will break off in a clear, glass disc, impressive but a waste of your lovely jam.
Different fruit needs to be prepared in different ways. Sugar not only acts to preserve the fruit but it also affects the consistency of your fruit. By altering when you add the sugar, you change the consistency of the fruit.
Very soft fruit like stawberries will disintegrate completely on boiling. So the sugar is poured over the fruit at the start. Sometimes it is even added to the fruit and left to sit overnight. The sugar draws out moisture and helps the fruit keep its shape while cooking.
Fruit with thicker skins like plums need to be stewed slowly in a small amount of water first. Only when the fruit is soft can you add the sugar. if you put it in at the beginning as you would for soft beries then you will get lots of hard skin pieces in the finished preserve.
Use fruit at a range of ripeness, as fruit gets more ripe, it gets sweeter but looses its pectin, the chemical that sets the jelly. I look for fruit that is just ripe with a few older bits (but never off) and a few slightly underripe bits.
Drop a small amount of jam onto a cold saucer. Wait a few seconds and then gently push it with your fingernail. If the surface wrinkles then it is set. It is a good idea to take your pan off the ehat while you test. At this point your jam should be nerly cooked and there is only a few seconds between perfect jam (is there any such thing? :-)) and disaster.
Please note, even after making many many batches of jam over the years, I still find myself looking closely and wandering if I really saw a wrinkle or just a trick of he light. This really is a case of practice.
Do take heart though, if the jam doesn't set properly, put the jars in the freezer to prevent mould and just use them up quickly once opened. They will make a great filling for a hot sponge pudding.
The easiest way to sterilise jam jars is to wash them well and then put them through a hot cycle of the dishwasher.
Not having a dishwasher I have to do it the old fashioned way. Wash the jars well and put them in a cool oven, between 80 and 100 degrees C for at least 15 minutes.
Remember to always sterilse the lids as well.
ALWAYS BOTTLE HOT JAM INTO HOT JARS.
Most jam jars come with what are called vinegar proof lids these days. This means that they have a waxy coating on the underside of the lid that stops vinegar from rusting the lid. If you have one of these lids then you may not need to add any other sealing material to your preserve. However, once you have made your lovely preserve most cooks want to make doubly sure that it stays well preserved.
The best thing to do is buy a small pack of jam lide tops, these should include some wax paper discs that you float on top of the hot jam and some clear plastic disks that you stretch over the top of the jar and hold in place with either an elastic band or just the screw top lids. The packs often include some pretty labels as well.
Don't label your jam until it has cooled down or else the glue will melt on the label.
Plump, juicy and glistening like jewels in the early morning sunshine, for me, blackberries are the fruit that says Autumn. Heralding the cooler mornings and atmospheric mists that make for my favourite season of the year, blackberries are easy to find, versatile to cook with and very tasty indeed.
My favourite recipe is blackberry and apple jam. The ratios of apple to blackberry are totally changeable so if you only manage a tiny handful of decent berries you can still impart a lovely flavour to an apple base. In a good year just add a little apple to balance the flavour a little and provide a contrasting texture.
200g black berries
(no need to wash but check for bugs and make sure that you only collect berries from above knee height)
300g cooking apples
Splash of lemon juice
A couple of glass jars with lids.
i first came accross this way of making jam in Omsk in Russia. Their lovely summers grow some amazing fruit.
This is a way of using fruit quickly, it will not preserve your fruit and will only keep for a few days in the fridge. That said, it tastes much better served at room temperature or even stood in the sunshine to warm naturally.
Choosing berries. This work best with soft fruit, I use raspberries and blackberries. The Russian one was made with blackcurrant but the ones I grow here in Surrey have a skins that feel tough if not cooked.
This can be quite runny but still goes well on toast, scones and in a cake.
The most common question I get asked is why a batch of jam went “wrong.”
My answer is always pretty much the same. Unless you wandered off, forgot your jam and came back to a blackened, burnt, solid lump of jam toffee then your jam probably did not go wrong.
If it doesn’t set over night, bung the jars in the freezer where they will keep pretty much for years. When you need one, take it out and serve your loose set, conserve with pride drizzled over scones and cream. So much easier than trying to spread a set jam over your cream tea.
If it is really runny then whizz it up in the blender and pour your artisan coolie over vanilla ice cream for a divine dessert. The colours are simply stunning and if you heat the coolie as well the taste is amazing.
If, when you open you jar of jam, you find that it has set quite hard and is difficult to spread the you have made a butter. Fruit butters sometimes contain actual butter but not always. They tend to have smaller pieces of fruit so make an issue of wanting to better mix the flavours.
If you need a knife to release your jam from the jar then congratulations, you have made a fruit cheese. Carefully cut the jam out of the jar in a neat cylinder and slice thinly. Serve the sliced preserve with British cheeses and a range of crackers for a top notch cheese board. The most famous version of this is membrillo or quince preserve from Spain. Sold in small amounts for large sums in the shops. English berry cheeses served with regional cheeses are delicious.
Remember, with all of these, do not tell anyone that your jam went wrong!
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