Saturday 27 September 2008

Preserving what's good

It's that time of year again - jams and preserves. Well, I'm actually a little late I suppose, but better late than never. J and I have quite often made jam together in the past, either with fruit from the garden (blackcurrants, damsons and gooseberries - not all together though!) or from the pick-your-own farm after an afternoon of picking (raspberry, redcurrant and a particularly memorable incident with a rather enthusiastic vat of strawberry jam - the ceramic cooker never did recover from the overflow of boiling sugar and fruit to which it was subjected!). Unfortunately neither of us have currently got any cultivated fruit bushes growing in our gardens (and embarrasingly for me this is because I forgot to plant my raspberry canes and gooseberry bush so they subsequently died - serve me right) but J's neighbour isn't particularly into gardening and her garden is overrun with various weeds. Some of these are brambles, which in the invasive way brambles do, are attempting to take over the world. Thus far they have made it into J's garden, so I was able to pick wild brambles. Yum! I love brambles and am quite willing to brave the inevitable scratches sustained during a picking session. There seemed to be plenty this year although some were rather overripe (J doesn't like brambles on account of them being too seedy) and I got enough to make jam. Blackberries don't contain very much pectin, so they are often partnered with apples to give enough pectin to allow the jam to set. I decided to take this a step further and as well as partnering them with apples (a natural partner - think blackberry and apple pie and crumble) used jam sugar which contains added pectin. This was a mistake as we'll see later! As far as I can tell, in UK supermarkets you can buy 'Jam sugar' which contains added pectin, ordinary standard granulated sugar and 'Preserving sugar'. Preserving sugar doesn't contain added pectin, but has larger crystals, which apparently makes for easier dissolving or some such - I've never used preserving sugar.
A quick point - as I'm sure you know, boiling sugar is extremely dangerous and can cause severe burns. Proceed with caution, having been duly warned. On the other hand, this isn't difficult, is extremely satisfying when you've done it and is good fun. I wouldn't want to put you off! A really good place to read more about jam making is Delia Smith's website. She gives all the background about preserving and also tells you how to sterilise jam jars at the bottom of this page. You can also get most of her recipes there (not just for jam, for everything!) free of charge.
Anyway, onto the recipe:
Blackberry and apple jam
375g/12oz apples (after peeling and coring - I used Bramleys)
1kg/ 2 lb blackberries (wild are best because they have a more intense flavour than cultivated)
150ml/1/4 pint water
1 1/2kg/3lb granulated sugar (don't need jam sugar!!!)
15g/1/2oz butter
- Put a couple of small saucers in the freezer - this is to test for setting point later.
- Measure sugar into a large ovenproof bowl and put into a low oven (about gas 2 or so) to warm up. This is not essential but helps the sugar to dissolve more quickly. Don't have the heat too high or the sugar will scorch.
- Slice apples thinly and put in saucepan with blackberries and water.
- Bring to the boil, reduce heat and cover pan, simmering gently for 10-15 minutes crushing fruit against sides of pan until soft and pulpy.
- Add warm sugar (be careful - bowl of hot sugar is unwieldy) and heat slowly, stirring all the time until the sugar dissolves (when the sugar has dissolved, you will no longer be able to feel grittiness when stirring the mixture, and when you lift out the wooden spoon you won't be able to see any sugar crystals on the spoon).
- Bring to boil, boil briskly (a rolling boil) for 10-15 minutes (or until setting point is reached - when you dribble a little jam onto a plate cold from the freezer it should wrinkle when you push it - see step 6). Alternatively wait for your sugar thermometer to reach 104C (according to wikipedia) and the jam should set. Check with the plate test if you want.
- Move pan off heat. Stir in butter to disperse scum. (I missed out this step - there didn't seem to be any scum on my jam!)
- Pot the jam into sterile jam jars, cover with waxed paper seals and then put lids onto jars. If, like me, you are reusing old jam jars with tamper evident seals, you will quite often find that a couple of hours later, as the jam is cooling and the air space above the jam shrinks, the seals will pop in. I like that. It's very satisfying!!!
- When cold label them. If you do it while they're still hot the labels drop off.
NB If you don't have this quantity of blackberries, scale the recipe, I think I may have halved it.
Jam at a rolling boil. You can just see the thermometer in the corner of the picture. There is a reason why this recipe isn't step by step and that the only photo I have of the jam is blurred. It's actually quite scary contemplating taking a photo of a boiling vat of sugar without someone else to help! Apologies for the picture then! You do need a big pan though.

Potting the jam up - the photo came out blurry because for some reason my camera decided that the teatowel in the background was a far more interesting subject matter than the jam in the foreground. Anyway, I was just trying to show the waxed disc on the top of the jam. You need to fill the jars as full as possible, and it's a good idea to have one more jar ready sterilised than you think you'll need, just in case.

One of the best ways to enjoy homemade jam - in a homemade scone with butter and a good cup of tea!!!

Hmmm, so I've kept saying that actually I didn't need to use that jam sugar with added pectin - this is why! I had a little excess jam which wouldn't fit into my jars, but wasn't enough to put in a new jar, so I just put it into a small bowl to eat later. It has set like a rock and has taken the shape of the bowl - you can't see that it isn't drooping over in the slightest but is standing erect and to attention. Ah well, it tastes great and that's all that really matters, but like I say, granulated sugar is probably all you need for this!!!

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