ArchiveJuly 31, 2010

The Art of Jam Making

While there are lots of delicious Irish currants and berries around, let’s have a ‘jam-session’. Even if you’ve never made a pot of jam in your life, I promise if you follow these few basic rules you’ll manage to turn out batch after batch of fresh tasting jam better than virtually anything you can buy. The secret as ever is to use beautiful fresh fruit and make it in small quantities – then every batch will be perfect.

For quite a long time there seems to be a kind of belief that if fruit is not quite good enough for serving fresh, it’s fine for jam. The fact is that mouldy fruit makes mouldy jam!

Before rural electrification the soft fruit season from mid June to September was a pretty hectic time for the dedicated housewife who wanted to have her shelves packed with jams and preserves for the Winter, now everything has changed.

If you don’t want to spend your whole summer in the kitchen, the most practical approach is freeze the fruit in perfect condition in small measured quantities so that you can make jam as you need it through the year. Jam made from frozen fruit will taste infinitely fresher and more delicious than a 6 or 7 month old jam made in peak season.

Guideline Rules for Successful Jam-Making – even if you are a complete novice

For really good jam, the fruit must be freshly picked, dry and unblemished

If the fruit is picked slightly under ripe, it will have more pectin and so the jam will set better.

Jam made from fruit that was wet when picked is more likely to go mouldy within in a short time.

The best jam is made in small quantities – eg. no more than 3lbs of raspberries at a time, perhaps 4lbs of strawberries with ¼ pint of redcurrant juice to help the set. Small quantities cook in a few minutes, so both the colour and the flavour of the jam will be perfect.

Ideally one should use a preserving pan for jam-making. Choose your widest stainless steel pan with a heavy base and sides at least 9 inch deep. It goes without saying that the depth of the contents in the preserving pan and the rate at which they boil, determine how long the jam needs to cook.

Sugar is the preservative in jams, so it is important to use the correct proportion – too little and the jam may ferment, too much may cause crystallization.

Citrus fruit peel, blackcurrants, gooseberries etc. must be thoroughly softened before sugar is added to the jam, otherwise they will toughen and no amount of boiling will soften them, as sugar has a hardening effect on skin and peel.

Stir well to ensure that the sugar is completely dissolved before the jam comes to the boil, (otherwise the jam will crystallize on top). For this reason it is better to add heated sugar, which dissolves more quickly and stir with a wooden spoon until the “gritty feeling” disappears.

Fruit should be simmered until the sugar is added, but from then on, it is best to boil as fast as possible until setting point is reached.

If necessary skim near to the end of cooking. If there is only a little scum, dissolve with a tiny lump of butter stirred in after the jam has reached setting point.

How Do I Know if the Jam is Cooked?

Test for setting frequently so that the jam doesn’t overcook – it will set when the temperature reaches 220°C on a sugar thermometer, a handy but expensive bit of kitchen equipment that you can live without. Alternatively put a teaspoonful of jam on a cold plate, leave in a cool place for a few minutes, if the jam wrinkles when pushed with the tip of your finger it has reached setting point. Skim if necessary and pot immediately.

How Do I Store the Jam?

Wash, rinse and dry the jam jars (remove any traces of old labels or any traces of glue if recycling, sometimes pretty tricky but methalated spirit will usually do the job. Jars should then be put into a preheated oven for 10 minutes at 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 1/2. Lids may also be sterilised in the oven – 5 minutes is fine. Fill the pots to the top to allow for shrinkage on cooling (use a jam funnel, to avoid drips) cover immediately with sterilised screw top lids if available or jam covers.

Covering Jam Jars.

One can buy packets of jam covers in most shops or supermarkets. These are made up of three elements, a silicone disc of paper, a large round of cellophane and a rubber band.

When the jam has reached setting point, pour into sterilised jars. Cover immediately with silicone discs (slippy side down onto the jam). Wet one side of the cellophane paper, then stretch it over the jar, and secure with a rubber band. If the cellophane disc is not moistened it will not become taut when the jam gets cold.

Later the jars can be covered with doyleys or rounds of material or coloured paper. These covers can be secured with rubber bands plain or coloured, narrow florists ribbons tied into bows or ordinary ribbon with perhaps little dried flowers or herbs.

Really delicious jams are always a welcome present and are also very eagerly sought after by local shops and delicatessens.

Remember if you are selling your jams to cost it properly, taking jars, covers, labels, food cost, heat, etc., into consideration. A formula used by many is food cost x 3. This would cover all the other items mentioned. If you are producing jam for sale you must contact the health authorities and comply with their regulations.

Note on Pectin

Pectin is the substance in fruit which sets jam. It is contained in the cell walls of fruit in varying degrees. It is higher when the fruit is under ripe. Acid e.g. lemon juice helps in the extraction of pectin. Some fruits are higher in pectin than others e.g. plums, damsons, gooseberries, blackcurrants and apples, while others contain little or none, e.g. marrow, blackberries. In these cases, it is necessary to add acid in the form of lemon juice or commercial pectin.

Raspberry, Boysenberry, Tayberry or Loganberry Jam

If you’ve never made jam before, this is a good place to start. Raspberry jam is the easiest and quickest of all jams to make, and one of the most delicious. Loganberries, boysenberries or tayberries may also be used in this recipe, too. Because it uses equal amounts of sugar and fruit, you don’t necessarily need as much as the recipe calls for. Sometimes when I’m trying to take the mystery out of jam-making for students, I put some scones into the oven, then make jam, and by the time the scones are out of the oven, the jam is made. It’s that easy!

Makes 3 x 450g (1lb) pots

900g (2lb) fresh or frozen berries

900g (2lb) white sugar; use 125g (4oz) less if the fruit is very sweet

Preheat the oven to 160ºC/325ºF/gas mark 3.

Wash, dry and sterilise the jars in the oven for 15 minutes. Heat the sugar in a stainless-steel or Pyrex bowl in an oven at 160ºC/325ºF/gas mark 3 for about 15 minutes. When the sugar is hot, put the berries into a wide, stainless-steel saucepan. Mash them a little and cook for 3-4 minutes over a medium heat until the juice begins to run, then add the hot sugar and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. Increase the heat, bring to the boil and cook steadily for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently (frozen berries will take 6 minutes). Test for a set by putting about a teaspoon of jam on a cold plate and leaving it for a few minutes in a cool place. Press the jam with your index finger. If it wrinkles even slightly, it is set. Remove from the heat immediately. Skim and pour into sterilised jam jars. Cover immediately.Keep the jam in a cool place or put on a shelf in your kitchen so you can feel great every time you look at it! Anyway, it will be so delicious it won’t last long!

Strawberry and Redcurrant Jam

Makes 7 lbs (3.2kg) approx.

4 lbs (1.8kg) strawberries

4 ¼ lbs (1.9kg) sugar

5 fl oz (150ml) redcurrant juice or if unavailable the juice of 2 lemons

First prepare the fruit juice using about 1 lb (450g) fruit to obtain 5fl oz (150ml) of juice. Put the strawberries into a wide stainless steel saucepan, use a potato masher to crush about three quarters of the berries, leave the rest intact in the juice. Bring to the boil and cook the crushed strawberries in the juice for about 2 or 3 minutes. Heat the sugar and add to the fruit, stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Increase the heat and boil for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until it reaches a set, skim. Pot immediately into hot sterilized jars, cover and store in a cool dry cupboard.




Blueberry and Lemon Verbena Jam

If lemon verbena is not available, include the rind of the lemons instead.

Makes 5 x 375g (13oz) jars

1kg (21/2lb) firm blueberries

juice of 2 lemons

a large handful (about 50) lemon verbena leaves, roughly chopped

700g (11/2lb) white granulated sugar, warmed

Pick over the blueberries and discard any that are bruised. Put the blueberries in a wide, low-sided saucepan or preserving pan. Add the lemon juice, chopped lemon verbena leaves and 300ml (1/2 pint) of water. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Add the warmed sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Boil until a setting point is reached. Fill the jam into sterilised jars, cover and store in a cool, dry place.



Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

There is just about time to make rhubarb and ginger jam before rhubarb comes to the end of its season.

This delicious jam should be made when rhubarb is in full season and is not yet thick and tough. I feel it’s so worth planting a few stools of rhubarb – it’s easy to grow and loves rich, fertile soil and lots of farmyard manure and will emerge every year for ever and ever if you feed it well.

Makes 8 x 450g (1lb) jars

1.8kg (4lb) rhubarb, trimmed

1.8kg (4lb) granulated sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 organic lemons

50g (2oz) fresh ginger, bruised and tied in muslin

50g (2oz) chopped crystallised ginger or stem ginger preserved in syrup (optional)

Wipe the rhubarb and cut into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Put it into a large, stainless-steel or Pyrex bowl layered with the sugar. Add the lemon zest and juice and leave to stand overnight.

Next day, put the mixture into a preserving pan, add the bruised ginger. Bring to the boil until it is a thick pulp, about 30–45 minutes, and test for a set. Remove the bag of ginger and then pour the jam into hot, sterilised jars. Cover and store in a cool, airy cupboard.

If you like, 50g (2oz) of chopped, crystallised ginger or preserved stem ginger can be added at the end.


Whitecurrant Jelly

Most jellies are dripped overnight but this is a happy exception. It only takes eight minutes to reach setting point and you can use the pulp as well, so you get twice the return on your currants. The leftover pulp can be used as a filling for a tart or as the basis of a whitecurrant sauce. Just add a little more water and perhaps a dash of kirsch or brandy. Then it can be served either with ice cream or lamb.

This recipe also works brilliantly with redcurrants, a wonderfully versatile product and a must-have in the pastry section of any restaurant kitchen as invaluable as a glaze for red fruit tarts. You’ll also find it indispensable in your larder. Both white and redcurrant jelly make a delicious accompaniment to roast lamb, bacon and ham.

Whitecurrant jelly is particularly delicious with cream cheese as a dessert or a fresh goat cheese.

Whtecurrants will be difficult to find unless you have your own bush order 2 or 3 now to plant between now and Autumn.

Makes 6 x 225g (8oz) jars

900g (2lb) whitecurrants

900g (2lb) granulated sugar

Remove the strings from the currants either by hand or with a fork. Put the currants and sugar into a wide, stainless-steel saucepan. Heat and stir continuously until they come to the boil. Then boil for exactly 8 minutes, stirring only if they appear to be sticking to the bottom. Skim carefully. Turn into a nylon sieve and allow to drip through – do not push the pulp through or the jelly will be cloudy. You can stir in gently once or twice just to free the bottom of the sieve of pulp. Pour the jelly into sterilised pots immediately. Cover and store in a cool, dry place. Red currants are very high in pectin so the jelly will begin to set just as soon as it begins to cool.

Blackcurrant Jam

The stalks can be removed from fresh blackcurrants with fingers or a fork. Frozen blackcurrants may also be used, but the jam will take longer to cook. Blackcurrants freeze well, but don’t bother to remove the strings before hand; when they are frozen, just shake the bag – the strings will detach and are easy to pick out.

Makes 11-12 x 370g 13oz) jars

1.8kg (4lb) fresh or frozen blackcurrants

2.25kg (5lb) white granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3.

Remove the stalks from the blackcurrants and put the fruit into a greased preserving pan. Add 1.2 litres (2 pints) of water bring to the boil and cook until the fruit begins to burst – about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the sugar into a stainless-steel bowl and heat for about 10 minutes in the oven. It is vital that the fruit is soft before the sugar is added; otherwise the blackcurrants will taste hard and tough in the finished jam. Add the heated sugar and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Boil briskly for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Skim, test and pot into sterilised jars. Cover and store in a cool, dry place.


A jam funnel

Glebe Gardens and Café in Baltimore 028-20232

West Cork recently opened up a little farm shop that sells homemade jams, salad dressings, freshly baked bread and scones, organic vegetables fresh from the garden… As well as their excellent lunch and dinner they also serve a really good breakfast. They use ingredients from their plentiful garden and fish fresh from the boats in Baltimore, for their small and deliciously fresh menu. is a brilliant little gadget to help you to fill the jam jars without getting yourself and everyone else covered with jam – available from good kitchen shops nationwide as are jam thermometers – the latter is a good investment but not essential.Screw top lids should be sterilized in boiling water before use.


Past Letters