It’s National Jam Week (18th-24th June) - a perfect time for it, with strawberries beginning to ripen and flowers on the bramble bushes marking the promise of blackberries to come. To get into the spirit Monica Shaw spoke with preserving expert Gloria Nicol, author of 100 Jams, Jellies, Preserves and Pickles for some tips on jam making & her favourite jam recipe - Redcurrant, Strawberrry & Black Pepper Jam.
Photo by Gloria Nicol
Blog post for Great British Chefs by Monica Shaw
Being relatively new to jam making, and having had several failures in the past, I wanted to get the low down on where to start and how to make my jam awesome. Gloria is also a contributor to The Guardian and someone who’ve I’d long admired for her gorgeous jam, eloquent writing and beautiful photography. She showed me the way to great jam making….
I’ve never made jam before. Where do I start?
Take inspiration from a fresh seasonal ingredient, like succulent local strawberries, pink-stemmed rhubarb, or blackberries picked from the hedgerows for free. Once you get into preserving, fruits in season begin to represent that time, like a ceremony to mark a particular time of year.
What makes a good jam?
The best jam captures the essence and character of the ingredients and shouldn’t be overpoweringly sweet. Though cooked, it shouldn’t taste ‘stewed’ and should still possess a fresh flavour.
Why does jam have so much sugar in it?
Sugar is a preservative and jam needs to contain a certain percentage of sugar to fruit for it to keep. Trading standards states the definition of jam as having 60% sugar content or over and most jam for sale is in the region of 65%. The sweetness should slightly exaggerate and intensify the fruit flavour without overtaking it.
Can I use less sugar when making jam?
The great thing about making your own jam is that you can use less sugar to suit your own tastes. If you do cut back on sugar you need to be aware that your jam may not keep as long and as sugar also plays a part in how the jam sets (along with the pectin content of the fruit), you may also have to settle for a softer set jam if you use less sugar.
Jam isn’t really a food generally eaten on its own! It is the added extra; spread on a slice of toast with butter, or with cream on a scone. So for the small amount consumed it doesn’t have to be a big deal how much sugar it contains, better to make it the best quality and most flavourful it can be and consume in moderation.
I don’t have any fancy canning equipment - can I still make jam?
For jam making you require a few basic pieces of equipment that you may already have in the kitchen; a large pan, a wooden spoon and some recycled glass jam jars are the basics. There is an advantage to using the right kind of pan though, as a large shallow shape will help encourage fast evaporation when bringing your jam to setting point. As this part of jam making seems to be what most people find tricky to begin with, it is worth buying or borrowing a proper jam pan, if you don’t already have something handy that will do the job.
I prefer to seal my jars with metal lids, but old fashioned traditional cellophane circles with elastic bands are still available and cheap to buy from hardware stores for sealing your jam and they work just fine.
Any other advice for people new to making jam?
When boiling your jam to reach setting point, never fill the pan over half full. A rapid boil will make the syrupy mixture rise up and bubble in the pan and if the pan is too full you will be constantly having to turn the heat down to stop the jam from boiling over. To reach a fast set you need a steely nerve and a full-on constant heat to maintain a rolling boil. Sometimes people say to me that they had to boil their jam for hours! That means there was something wrong. I can usually bring jam to setting point in 5 – 20 minutes depending on the type of fruit.
What’s you favourite jam and how do you like to enjoy it?
My favourite jam is usually the one I’ve made most recently, like the rhubarb, lemon and English lavender jam, currently my jam of choice for topping a scone with a dollop of clotted cream. Damsons are my favourite single fruit flavour, so I always look forward to making a batch of damson jam each year and the Seville marmalade season, in January, is something I look forward to as well as this marks the start of the preserving year. If you are using local seasonal produce there may be only a few weeks availability to focus on an ingredient before moving onto the next.
People are often obsessed by how long preserves will keep for. If you have a jam that you can proudly say has kept in the larder for a year or two, that says it wasn’t actually amazing enough to be eaten! I would rather run out of my favourite preserves and be looking forward to making more next year, than have a shelf full sitting there, that isn’t quite special enough to be eaten up with relish.
Care to share a favourite jam recipe?
Photo by Gloria Nicol
Perfect combinations are part of a preserver’s quest. Combinations can marry flavours in a satisfying way but also mixing low and high pectin fruits is good too. Pectin content is what helps jam to set and some fruits such as strawberries, rhubarb and cherries are relatively low in pectin. If you combine them with a fruit with high pectin, such as sour apples or red and white currants, as well as building flavours you also help to make a jam with good consistency. The following recipe mixes redcurrants and strawberries, so as well as an advantageous pectin boost it is a wonderful vibrant colour.
REDCURRANT, STRAWBERRY AND BLACK PEPPER JAM
Makes approx 1.75Kg jam
750g strawberries, hulled
juice from 1 lemon
1Kg redcurrants, removed from stems
7 whole black peppercorns, roughly ground
1. Cut large strawberries into 3 and leave small ones whole, then place the strawberries in a bowl with 600g of sugar and the juice from the lemon. Stir to combine, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge overnight.
2. Place the redcurrants in a pan with 150ml water and bring to a simmer for 5-10 minutes, by which time the currants will have popped and released their juice. Pour the currants into a sieve and collect the juice that drains through, then with the back of a spoon, push the fruit through leaving skins and pips behind. Scrape the redcurrant puree from the underside of the sieve and add it to the juice and discard the skins and pips.
3. Pour the contents of the strawberry bowl into a pan and warm it through stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Pour through a sieve, collecting the juice and leaving the strawberries to one side.
4. In a preserving pan combine the redcurrant and strawberry juice and add the remaining sugar. Heat gently stirring until the sugar has dissolved then up the heat and bring to a rolling boil until setting point is reached (a blob of the syrup on a cold plate will quickly form a skin that wrinkles when you push your finger across it.)
5. Add the strawberries and the ground black peppercorns and bring back to a boil and maintain for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, skim off any foam if necessary and pour into hot sterilised jars. (To do this, I place clean jars on their sides in a low oven, on a shelf lined with a tea towel, for 15 minutes)
6. Place a wax paper circle on the surface of the jam and seal. Leave till cold and label your jars.
Gloria Nicol writes the blog www.laundryetc.co.uk and is the author of 100 Jams, Jellies, Preserves and Pickles (Cico Books). You can find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/laundryetc and on Twitter @thelaundry.
Blog post for Great British Chefs by Monica Shaw
What are your tips for someone making jam for the first time? Do you have a recipe or flavour that would be good to start with? Share your jam making stories with us over on Great British Chefs Facebook Page.