Sunday, 26 September 2010
No, I mean jamming session, really. Once upon a time in my life that meant something else entirely. Now I'm such a nerd.
So, a quick run down on how we do it. And by 'we' I mean, of course, 'I'. I would like to start by saying that this book, The Basic Basics Jams, Preserves and Chutneys By Marguerite Patten, is all you really need to get going. Jam making really isn't complicated and this book covers all the basics.
We are lucky this year to have such an abundant harvest that is still giving even this late on into the season. Some really late raspberry varieties are battling on, plums are laden on late variety trees and the forest is veritably gushing with vitamin C on stalks. As such, not many forays into the countryside and forest are left empty-handed; we always seem to come back with a good crop of blackberries and elderberries.
As such the jam jars are slowly stocking up as we make hay whilst the sun shines and bottle as much as we can before the wildlife gets clued up and shuts down.
You will need, of course, jam jars. Lakeland sell jars (lids seperately) at the going rate, but search around on eBay for some excellent bulk order deals if you need more than a handful.
Other useful equipment include ::
a thick-bottomed large pan (or maslin pan if you are doing big batches),
easy pour jam funnel like this or this,
Sugar thermometer (not really necessary),
Waxed circles (but not if you are using Kilner Jars),
To sterilize the jars I heat them in the oven by placing them on a damp tea towel in a roasting dish and heating the oven to the lowest setting for at least 15 minutes. I start that off before I do anything else.
Next I wash the berries and rinse well. If I'm using berries I usually include an apple (peeled and chopped) for added pectin and taste. You can use any apple for the pectin, but if you want the taste then use a cooking apple. I weigh all the fruit and add to the pan on a medium heat, covered, to stew.
As the fruit is stewing down (and the jars are sterilizing)I weigh the sugar ready to be poured. If I have added an apple then I use half ordinary sugar and half jam sugar, but if I don't use an apple I use jam sugar entirely. I basically add weight for weight, so 1LB of fruit to 1LB sugar.
Once the fruit is sufficiently stewed (and any apple soft and squishy - mash if necessary) I add the sugar and stir until it is dissolved. Once dissolved turn the heat high to bring the sugar mix up to boiling point, keep stirring.
You can, at this point, use your sugar thermometer to determine when the correct temperature has been reached (mine actually has an arrow on it marking JAM---> for easy reading, but if you don't have that then it's about 104*C), or drop some mixture on a plate to see if it 'sets'. Once this temperature has been achieved you can turn the heat off, remove jars from the oven and begin to ladel the mixture into the jars via the funnel.
The important bit about this is not under, nor over, filling. Leave about 1/2" gap at the top. Any more and this will create pressure problems and any less and it invites deterioration of the jam. It is also important to clean any splodges off the rim of the jar as these will invariably become host to bacteria.
Once filled immediately cover the jar with a wax circle (or kilner jar lid). Once all jars have been filled and covered with wax circles the lids can be applied and tightened.
Once the lids are on leave the jars for 24 hours to cool and set, and then label your jars with the date. Once done you can store them away from direct sunlight until you need to consume them - within a year and no later (hence the importance of labelling).
Any leftover jam which doesn't fill a whole jar can be ladelled into a jar but this MUST be refrigerated and eaten within a week.
And that's it. So easy. DO read the book though and take your advice from experts. I am in no way claiming to be an expert; this is just how I do it.
So go make and save yourself a little bit of summer in a jar for those long winter months!