Saturday, 13 August 2016

Fuss-free jam making

Strawberry conserve and gooseberry jam
Jam and jellies are pretty straightforward to make, but having the right equipment and knowing what to expect can make the difference between success and failure. I highly recommend the following:

  • Maslin pan: This is a large gradated pan with a spout on one side and a handle on the other, making pouring very easy. It also confines any sticky jam splashes to the pan.
  • Jam funnel: Again, this avoids mess when pouring the jam into the jars.
  • Large wooden spoon: For stirring the jam.
  • Homebrew oxygen steriliser: For ease of sterilising the jam jars.
  • Steam juicer: Extracts the juice from fruit without the need for topping and tailing (or removing currants from their strings, for example). Jelly making becomes a doddle without the need to strain the juices through muslin for hours.

Maslin pan
The process for jam making usually goes like this: You simmer the fruit, then add sugar and boil rapidly until the setting point is reached. Skim off, let cool a little and fill into sterilised jars. Really only two things can go wrong if you follow a recipe with the correct proportions of fruit and sugar:

  • You haven't boiled the jam for long enough (or there is not enough pectin in the jam) and it won't set.
  • You've boiled it far too long and it's gone rock solid.
The first case is a little annoying but salvageable. If the jam really hasn't set by the next day pour everything back into the maslin pan, add a sachet of pectin and boil again until the setting point has reached.

Gooseberry jelly, just filled into jars
The second case is not reversible, but you have to boil the jam for quite a bit longer after the setting point is reached for this to happen. So if you pay close attention it shouldn't happen. Recipes will give an indication of when to expect the jam to reach setting point. It might take five or ten minutes longer than that, but it won't take an hour longer. And you might still be able to use this crystallised hard jam in baking or cooking.

If you're finding the saucer or flake test difficult to judge (it is not very scientific) consider investing in a sugar thermometer. Then you can just wait until the jam temperature reaches 105C to 110C (though this also depends on the pectin content). I use the saucer test where you put a spoonful of jam on a chilled saucer and push it with your finger - if it wrinkles it's ready. However, this is not always clear cut and takes a bit of practice to judge. I always keep a few saucers in the freezer so that I can make jam spontaneously.

Strawberry & rhubarb jam
It helps to know the pectin content of your fruit. If it is low (as in strawberries or rhubarb), add the juice of a lemon (which is high in pectin) or some other high-pectin fruit. If it is high (as in gooseberries or crab apple) you won't need anything else but sugar.

Make sure you use enough sugar. I like to use less sugar than in most commercial jams, but you have to use a certain ratio of sugar to fruit so that the jam will keep. Traditionally, this is 1:1, but it depends on the pectin content of the fruit.

Bramble wine
If the fruit is fiddly to prepare (blackcurrants, small gooseberries, crab apples) or very seedy (brambles, raspberries), making jelly might be preferable to making jam. Load up your steam juicer and boil for about 90 minutes until the fruit has broken down and the juice looks nicely stained. Then fill the juice into your maslin pan, add the required sugar for the amount of juice and boil until set. Though after steaming the fruit you might be tempted to make fruit wine instead...

My final tip is to work in small batches (1kg to 2kg of fruit). This makes everything easier.

My annual must-do jams and jellies are:
  • Strawberry conserve (where you soak the strawberries in sugar for a day, then briefly boil before leaving them to infuse for another day before boiling them with some lemon juice - this really brings out the strawberry flavour)
  • Strawberry & rhubarb jam 
  • Rhubarb & ginger jam
  • Gooseberry & elderflower jam
  • Bramble jelly
And once I have enough of them, hopefully next year:
  • Blackcurrant jelly
  • Raspberry jelly

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments and questions are welcome.
If you've tried something after reading about it here, or have suggestions, please tell us about it!