Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Jam musings

I'm not a natural domestic goddess. Far from it. Enthusiastic maybe, but not always very successful. And definitely not a natural.

Over the last two and a half years of blogging about our attempts to live a more wholesome, sustainable life (which naturally includes lots of cooking from scratch) there have been lots of runny marmalade/runny chutney/runny yogurt/runny fudge incidents. 

Even my knitting turns out, if not runny, then the knitting equivalent of runny - loose. Don't mention the cardigan for the new born niece, who's now two, that never got finished. 


So it's good to celebrate when things go well. This year the jam actually set. And I mean, really set. Like, #canturnthejarupsidedownanditdoesn'tfallout set. Yay!

My random jam musings
  • If there's ever a time when I master jam-making, then it's sod's law that it will coincide with the time that sugar starts being outed as, not just tooth-rotting, but on a par with cocaine. Lighting up parts of the brain 'like a Christmas tree' on MRI scans, I read somewhere. And not in a good way. All around me neighbours and family members are giving up sugar whilst I'm buying kilos of the stuff to preserve fruit. I feel faintly guilty that I'm flying in the face of public health guidance every time I spread a bit of jam on my toast. :-( 
  • Why has it taken me this long to realise that buying 'preserving sugar' or 'jam sugar' will guarantee that jam or marmalade sets? Perhaps advanced jam makers can live dangerously with ordinary old granulated sugar, pectin, or pectin-rich fruits like lemons or apples. But not me, I'm sticking with jam sugar from now on. Every time.
  • The expensive Kilner jam thermometer that I bought a couple of years ago (to try and rectify some of my 'runny' issues) looks lovely but I don't think it is at all accurate. It gets to a certain point and then the needle just sticks, even when I can see that the jam must be getting hotter. Boiling the jam vigorously for ten or so minutes without testing with the thermometer seems to work fine.
  • The minute the damsons are ripe, is the time to make damson jam. This year they went from hard to ripe to mouldy really, really quickly and I was almost too late.
  • Once you've got the jam sugar and the boiling business sorted, you can pretty much make jam out of anything. It feels like cheating to buy a big bowl of plums from the market for £1 and make plum jam (like I did once I realised my jam was miraculously setting this year and I ought to make the most of it), but I guess it's not. And buying frozen fruit is not off limits either. Just simmer any old fruit with a sloosh of water until it's soft, then add an equal amount of jam sugar (did I already mention the jam sugar...) until the sugar is all dissolved. After that, boil the jam in a mad scientist kind of way for ten minutes or so, and that's all there is to it. Test to see whether it's setting by blobbing some on a saucer that you have already cooled in the freezer. If it's not setting readily, boil it madly for a bit longer. Fridge or freezer jam is made by the same process but using half the amount of sugar (less guilt) therefore needs to be kept in the fridge, or frozen once made, until use. 
  • Ladling the jam into a jug and then pouring it out is far less messy than trying to ladle it directly into the jars.
And I think that's possibly all there is to say about jam. Or is it? Any top jam-making tips or favourite recipes? Do you swear by a thermometer? Are you avoiding sugar or do you think fruit jam counts as one of your five-a-day...

20 comments:

  1. My tip is to make jam in your breadmaker! (actually my REAL tip would be to not
    bother making it but most people probably like jam a lot more than me). I can make
    2 1/2 jars that way which lasts us about a decade.
    I don't ladle it into the jars - I pour it directly into a wide mouth funnel. The breadmaker
    does everything else - it's not a method for everybody but if I had to faff around
    with endless stirring and checking the temperature, I would never bother.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I used to have a bread maker that made jam - it was really handy for making small amounts.

      Delete
  2. Well done on the jam making success. I'm not sure there is such a thing as a 'natural domestic goddess'. Everyone has to learn through trial and error. I think some people are just good at presenting a Little Miss Perfect front just to make the rest of us feel a bit inadequate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And I think perfection does get amplified on blogs. As a blogger it's easy to show off the good bits and hide the bad bits...

      Delete
  3. I have never heard of jam sugar. What's different? I also agree with Barbara that I'm not that big of a jam person, so it's usually not worth it for me to make it. However, I will occasionally make freezer jam because it tastes so fresh. Also, a wide mouth funnel is essential for filling jars in all kinds of circumstances. Hope you successes continue.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why have I never thought of a funnel? I think jam sugar is just sugar with added pectin.

      Delete
    2. Yes jam sugar is sugar with pectin added but preserving sugar is something different. It is large crystal sugar which dissolves slowly apparently giving a clearer result to your finished preserve and does not have pectin in. Me, I just use granulated because it's cheapest but I tend to make preserves with high pectin fruit.

      Delete
  4. I under-cook jam a lot. I think it's the fear of a scorched product. So, we're quite used to runny jam here. It makes a great topping for ice cream, over-baked (dry) cakes and pancakes. But I still love making jam. I always feel so triumphant. I make sure to leave whatever batch I've just completed, on the kitchen counter, so everyone in the family can see how hard at work I've been!! Just trying to eek a bit of appreciation from the family, I guess!

    When I want my jam to set, I do use a thermometer, as it really does work for me. When you find what works for you, stick with it. In your case, the jam sugar seems to really help.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally agree with the triumphant feeling after a batch of jam - it's very satisfying! I remember your runny marmalade which coincided with my runny marmalade!

      Delete
  5. I make lots of jam and rarely eat any myself. The jam funnel is a useful bit of kit

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do all the jam making and eating here! I'm the biggest jam fan in the house.

      Delete
  6. I have one of those Kilner jam thermometers that also doesn't work. Waste of time. I use a frozen saucer and that works fine. Mostly. But I do have a batch of very runny mirabelle jam that even the Jam Fiend Mr FD won't touch. Sigh

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad it's not just me. Your runny mirabelle jam reminds me of my batch of 'runny but plummy' jam that I made one year...

      Delete
  7. I have a jam thermometer [a very cheap one from Trago Mills in Cornwall] - but usually do the saucer from the freezer test. I made some sloe jam this year that set as solid as a good French pate. Other times my jam is runnier than a ripe Brie. I discovered that cutting a lemon into quarters and dropping it into my bubbling MaMade certainly improved the set of the marmalade - but dare not add such acidity to my jams, coward that I am. I have not come across the breadmaker method before. How does that work, then?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know if all breadmakers have the jam setting (mine's a Breville which may not
      be available in the UK). You just chuck in the fruit, sugar and pectin, switch it on
      the machine does all the stirring and cooking. I do finely chop the fruit in the food
      processer first, though - the machine doesn't pulverise it very well.

      Delete
    2. Ooh Sloe Jam? Now that sounds like a much better thing to do with sloes than put them into gin. I look forward to hearing all about that when I see you ;-) I have seen jam recipes with added lemon - I think all the sugar probably offsets the acidity.

      Delete
  8. My mom used to make very delicious Guava jam. I am chicken though, too worried about it getting spoiled.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Guava jam sounds delicious. Not something we make much in Wiltshire :-)

      Delete
  9. Love the idea of pouring it in a pitcher than pouring in the bottles.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It works well. The funnel idea mentioned in the comments sounds a good plan too.

      Delete