Time for a Jam Session!


We’re smack bang in the middle of the soft fruit and stone season.  It’s been a brilliant year.  We’ve had a terrific crop of currants and berries, always a challenge to get them picked at the peak of perfection between the showers.  Lots of red, white and black currants have already been picked, weighed, bagged and safely tucked into the freezer for autumn and winter, jams, jellies and puddings.  They freeze perfectly, no need to string before freezing.  I discovered that life changing fact a few years ago when I was too busy to string the currants and had to just bung them into the freezer, thinking I’ll worry about that later….To my amazement, I discovered that if you just shake the bag of frozen fruit, the strings drop off and can be picked out in a matter of minutes, a game changer…

The green gooseberries are long finished, we made lots of green gooseberry and elderflower jam, one of my all-time favourites but now it’s red gooseberry jam from the end of the dessert gooseberry crop (they are sweeter so don’t forget to reduce the sugar).  Traditional single flavour jams are of course delicious when made with beautiful fresh currants and berries but how about becoming more creative and adventurous.  I’m loving having fun with different flavour combinations.  Blackcurrant and rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) worked brilliantly after I’d picked a huge colander of plump blackcurrants a few days ago.  Blackcurrants are high in pectin so blackcurrant jam is easy to make, in fact one has to be careful not to overcook.  It reaches setting point in a nice wide saucepan in 10 or 12 minutes.  Strawberry and blackberry are a different matter, both fruits are low in pectin (the gelling component in fruit) so they will need extra acidity.  Tart cooking apples high in pectin work well.  Some cooks like to use jam sugar, I’m not a fan, mostly because the jam will indeed set but is likely to have the texture of bought jam and for my taste a slightly odd aftertaste which kind of defeats the purpose of making it yourself and then many brands include palm oil, a no no for me…..

If you are fortunate to own or have access to a fig tree, add a couple of leaves to raspberry or peach jam or make a fig leaf jelly by adding lots of fig leaf – say 5 or 6 to an apple jelly base.  It’ll enhance the jelly with a delicious slightly almondy flavour.  Lemon verbena leaves from the tender shrub (Aloysia citrodora) add magic to many jams, as does our favourite rose geranium – a plant that no house should be without.  It’s a tender perennial with scented leaves with a haunting lemony flavour.  Spices too can perk up jams and preserves – experiment but I’ve enjoyed strawberry and black pepper, peach and cardamom, orange, clove and cinnamon, pear and ginger.  Maybe add a pinch of chilli flakes – but don’t get carried away…

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

  1. For really good jam, the fruit must be freshly picked, dry and unblemished
  2. Slightly under ripe fruit will have more pectin and so the jam will set better.
  3. Jam made from fruit that was wet when picked is more likely to go mouldy within a short time.
  4. The best jam is made in small quantities – e.g. no more than 3lbs of raspberries at a time, perhaps 1.8kg (4lbs) of strawberries with 150ml (5fl oz) 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Citrus fruit peel, blackcurrants, gooseberries etc. must be thoroughly softened before sugar is added, otherwise the skins will toughen and no amount of boiling will soften them, sugar has a hardening effect on skin and peel.
  8. Stir well to ensure that the sugar is completely dissolved before the jam comes to the boil, (otherwise the jam may crystallize on top). For this reason it is better to add heated sugar, which dissolves more quickly.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the “gritty feeling” disappears.
  9. 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.  Stir occasionally so it doesn’t catch on the base of the saucepan.
  10. 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 methylated 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.  Screw top lids should be sterilized in the oven or in boiling water beforeuse.

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 the ‘dry side’ 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 a little sprig of 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 4.  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, strawberries and blackberries. In these cases, it is necessary to add acid in the form of lemon juice or commercial pectin.  

Blackcurrant and Lemon Verbena 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 beforehand; when they are frozen, just shake the bag – the strings will detach and are easy to pick out.  Blackcurrants are high in pectin so the jam sets quickly, be careful not to overcook.

Makes 11-12 x 370g (13oz) jars

1.8kg (4lb) fresh or frozen blackcurrants

1.6kg (3lb 6oz) white granulated sugar

– since Ireland has gone over to cane sugar which appears to be more intensely sweet we reduced the sugar from 1.8kg (4lbs/8 cups).  The intensity of sugar varies in different countries and some varieties of blackcurrants are sharper than others.

10 leaves of chopped lemon verbena

Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.

Remove the stalks from the blackcurrants and put the fruit into a greased preserving pan. Add 1.2 litres (2 pints/5 cups) 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 almost 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.  Add 10 leaves of chopped lemon verbena to the jam and boil briskly for about 10 – 20 minutes, stirring frequently.  Skim, test and pot into sterilised jars. Cover and store in a cool, dry place (The setting time depends on the variety so be careful not to overcook).

Camilla’s Strawberry and Rose Petal Jam

When my friend Camilla Plum comes to stay she wanders through the farm and gardens and greenhouse, picking and collecting fresh ingredients and cooks non-stop. Last summer, she filled her apron with rose petals from the old scented roses – she tossed them into a saucepan with some fresh strawberries and made this exquisite jam. We also made rose petal syrup and crystallised the petals to decorate desserts and cake. Use organic ingredients where possible

Makes 2–3 x 370g jars

450g (1lb) granulated sugar

1kg (2 1/4lb) strawberries

1 litre scented rose petals (unsprayed)

freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 110°C/225°F/Gas Mark 1/4.

Scatter the sugar over a baking tray and warm in the oven.

Put the strawberries in a wide stainless-steel saucepan and cook over a brisk heat until the juices run and the fruit breaks down. Add the rose petals and hot sugar.

Stir to dissolve the sugar, bring back to the boil and continue to cook for 5–8 minutes until it reaches a set. Test for a set by putting about a teaspoon of jam on a cold plate, leaving it for a few minutes in a cool place. It should wrinkle when pressed with a finger. When at setting point, add the lemon juice and remove from the heat immediately. Pour into sterilised jars and store in a cool place for 3–4 months but enjoy sooner rather than later.

Raspberry and Rosewater Jam

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.

Makes 3 x 450g (1lb) pots

900g (2lb) fresh raspberries

790g (1lb 12oz) granulated sugar

2 tablespoons rosewater

Wash, dry and sterilise the jars in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 15 minutes.

Heat the sugar in a moderate oven for 5-10 minutes.

Put the raspberries into a wide stainless steel saucepan and cook for 3-4 minutes until the juice begins to run, then add the hot sugar and stir over a gentle heat until fully dissolved. Increase the heat and boil steadily for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Test for a set by putting about a teaspoon of jam on a cold plate, leaving it for a few minutes in a cool place. It should wrinkle when pressed with a finger.  Add the rosewater and stir. Remove from the heat immediately. Skim and pour into sterilised jam jars. Cover immediately.

Hide the jam in a cool place or else 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!

Peach, Lemon and Fig Leaf Jam

A delicious combination jam.  You’ll need really ripe peaches for this. If the fruit is too under ripe it won’t cook down in the sugar into a luscious, glossy jam.  If the peaches are hard, leave them out to ripen on a sunny window or put them into a paper bag, for a couple of days.

Makes 7 x 220g (8oz) jars

1.5kg (3lb 5oz) ripe peaches, peeled, halved, stoned and chopped

3-5 fresh fresh fig leaves, depending on size

800g (1 3/4lb) granulated sugar

Zest and juice of 1 organic lemon

Peel and stone each peach, dice into approximately 1cm (1/2 inch) cubes.  Put into a preserving pan with the fig leaves. If the peaches are not super-ripe, add a splash of water to help them to soften. Cover with a lid to speed up the cooking process. It’s important that the peaches are fully cooked through before you add the warm sugar (Use a potato masher if necessary).

When the peaches are soft, add the hot sugar and zest and freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Cook until the jam reaches setting point, 105C on a sugar thermometer (4-5 minutes).

Remove the jam from the heat.  Put the fig leaves in a sieve and press the juices into the jam to extract more flavour.  Discard the fig leaves.  Allow the jam to rest for 5-6 minutes. Pour into hot, sterilised jars.  Cover immediately. Store in a cool, dark place but enjoy sooner rather than later.

Strawberry and Black Pepper Jam

Makes 4-5 pots

1kg (2 1/4lb) fresh strawberries stems trimmed

500g (18oz) granulated sugar

150ml (5fl oz) redcurrant juice (see recipe)

freshly squeezed juice and rind of 1 lemon

2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper fresh *to taste

Mash the strawberries roughly with a potato masher in a wide stainless-steel saucepan.   Add the lemon rind, juice and redcurrant juice

Stir in the hot sugar and allow to melt over a low heat. Bring to the boil for 4-5 minutes only and remove pan from heat.

Test by putting half a teaspoon of jam onto a chilled plate.  Push with the tip of your finger, if jam wrinkles it is ready, if not return to boil and check at 2 minute intervals but it’s unlikely to need more time if you are using redcurrants and lemon.

Add the freshly cracked black pepper and remove from heat. Skim off any foam.

Pour into warm sterilised jars and seal.

Store in a cool dry cupboard.

Redcurrant Juice

Put 450g (1lb) redcurrants (they can be fresh or frozen) into a stainless steel saucepan with 175ml (6fl oz) of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. Use as is or strain through a fine sieve. This juice can be frozen for use another time if necessary.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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