It’s already August, and forgive me for saying it but let’s face it, the summer’s nearly over, so I’ve been making hay whilst the sun shines, well jam actually…
After experimenting with some new cake recipes using jam, I decided it was about time I plucked up the courage to have a go at making my own – and what’s more, I wanted to make it from scratch complete with fresh, hand-picked fruit.
Impatient and eager to get going, I ran off to Rectory Farm, one of Oxfordshire’s many pick your own farms and got stuck into some strawberry picking – being mid June and the start of the summer berry season, strawberries and gooseberries were the only thing in season.
Now, little did I know when I was picking the little suckers, that strawberries are the hardest fruit to make jam with. Basically, if you’ve never made jam before, it’s a bit like making mousse or jelly – you need it to set, but instead of gelatine you use pectin. Now pectin is found in most fruits and in particularly high amounts in fruits such as lemons and gooseberries – they are some prickly beggars and pretty painful if you keep sticking yourself with the thorns – you have been warned! Anyway, it turns out that strawberries are really low in pectin so they’re not ideal for jam. Never fear though, that’s what jam sugar is for, which has pectin already added to it.
If you’re local to Oxfordshire, the added bonus to going to Rectory Farm is that they also happen to stock the various different bits and pieces you’ll need for jam making, including jars of the elusive pectin which isn’t readily available, and should be used when you’re using regular sugar and low pectin fruits like strawberries.
Whilst we’re on the subject of sugar, don’t confuse jam sugar with preserving sugar – I did, and it turns out preserving sugar is actually designed to be used with fruits that are high in pectin – if you’re thinking this all sounds complicated it is – don’t even get me started on boiling points and wrinkle tests to see if the stuff has set. You can find out more details about how to do this if you try searching for recipes online.
Don’t worry though, it does get easier – a few weeks later I returned to pick some raspberries and I’m pleased to say they were much easier to work with. I also used recipes that didn’t require pectin, and didn’t involve boiling points or sugar thermometers, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, rest assured there are some quick and easy ones out there that are ideal for novices. To make things extra simple, I’ve shared my tops tips for jam making below:
Sterilise your jars in the oven and leave them in there whilst you prepare your jam – pouring hot jam into cold jars can cause cracking
If you haven’t got any pectin, try adding some lemon juice to your jam when using fruit like strawberries
Combine half caster sugar to half fruit for a quick and easy recipe
Stick with high pectin fruits when you start – raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries
Try adding a small amount of butter to your jam before you pot it to prevent scum (the technical name for the froth that gathers on the top)
Pump up the jam people!
The Burly Baker x