Nothing beats the flavour of home-made jams, says Mary Kemp, and now is the time to get busy
While growing up I only really remember eating homemade jam. Made in batches, labelled and dated in mum’s handwriting, it was one of the things my mother did without fail, every year, alongside making chutneys and jars of pickles. There was always enough to last us through the winter. I do remember the odd jar of Robertson’s jam appearing in the kitchen at tea time when supplies were low, but it’s the label that I recall rather than the flavour of the fruit!
Its jam-making season and the box of jars and lids I have collected over the year now come into their own, though it’s a bit like socks; I seem to end up with a few odds and ends that don’t match! It may seem a real performance to make jam, but it’s not; it’s just one of those ‘turn on Radio Four and listen to
The Archers with a glass of wine’ moments.
It takes a little time to prepare the fruit and weigh the ingredients and you need to avoid rushing off to do 101 other things. Many old recipes will talk about quantities of fruit in 10lbs or more and a mountain of sugar, but I find it’s so much easier and less daunting making jam in smaller quantities, often with the odd left-over punnet of fruit. Successful jam making depends on the quality of the ingredients, but more important is the interaction of three ingredients in the right proportion; sugar, pectin and acid.
All fruits contain these, but a jam maker will always add more sugar and sometime more acid and pectin. Blackcurrants, for instance, are full of pectin and strawberries are not, so adjustments are in order.
Homemade strawberry jam is wonderful, though it can be one of the most temperamental jams to make as it doesn’t always set. But if you add a small amount of homemade redcurrant juice to your recipe, the set will be much more reliable and the deep red juice will enhance the flavour and often the colour. The redcurrant juice can be made and frozen in small batches, and added to the strawberries as you make your jam.
Just boil 1lb of redcurrants with 6floz of water then simmer for about 20 minutes, and strain. Then just add ¼ pt of redcurrant juice to every 4lb of strawberries and 3¾ lb of sugar. Failing this, the juice of two lemons will also make all the difference.
The easiest jam to make is raspberry. It’s so quick that you can have a batch of scones baking at the same time; both fresh and ready to eat. The recipe I use, which I think is an old WI recipe, uses equal quantities of fruit to sugar. As you sterilise the jars in the oven for about 10 minutes, the oven is also used to heat the sugar through.
Cook the raspberries in a stainless steel saucepan for around four minutes, until the juices begin to run. Then add the hot sugar and bring the jam to the boil, stirring over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved, and boil steadily for five minutes, stirring well. Test the set and then pour into sterilised jars.
There are several ways to test the set, and lots of wonderful gadgets you can buy, but the best is the way my mother uses, a spoonful on a cold saucer; not very scientific but it works perfectly, as do many of these wonderful old recipes. Find out more about Mary Kemp’s cookery theatres, demonstrations and more recipes at marykemp.net
‘Homemade strawberry jam is wonderful, though it can be one of the most temperamental jams to make’
ABOVE: Raspberry jam is the easiest to make, says Mary