Monthly Archives: July 2012

Crazy Jam Lady

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I always look forward to July as to me it’s the beginning of the jam making season (rock ‘n’ roll!). My friends and family are possibly more excited than I am as I usually turn up proudly clutching jars of my carefully made produce. Or at least they pretend to be excited, maybe they are just polite!

So the wonderful Tulleys Farm near me opened its pick your own fields last weekend, and I was down there as quick as I could to get the first crop of strawberries. I like to think of myself as an efficient strawberry picker, and half an hour later I left clasping my precious cargo.

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I know I’m in danger of coming across as a crazy lady – but here are my top tips for picking strawberries:

1. Walk to the furthest part of the field (people are lazy and will typically avoid walking, so you get the least picked over section if you bother to walk a bit).

2. Work your way up a single row (don’t jump about between rows just because
you spot a beauty!), and use both hands to pull the leaves apart so that you can find the hidden gems.

3. Pick both ripe and slightly under-ripe fruit as there is more pectin in under-ripe fruit.

Once you’ve got your beauties home, get to work quickly or pop them in the fridge as they can quickly spoil.

I like my jam chunky, so I don’t chop or mash my strawberries. I just chop off the stalks and halve any really large ones. Then a quick wash and it’s weigh in time.

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Commercially prepared jams are often much less than 50% fruit, but I like to make mine 60% fruit and 40% sugar. This batch was about 2.6kg fruit, 1.8kg sugar. I never add pectin as I find I don’t need it, though I probably boil my jam for longer than people who add pectin to ensure it sets (particularly strawberry which is low in pectin).

You don’t need a jam pan, any large heavy bottomed pan will do, but I love the size of my pan – it can take about 3kg of fruit and let’s you get a good rolling boil without spilling over. Another handy piece of equipment is a jam funnel. It’s shallower and wider than a regular funnel, and let’s you fill your jars quickly and relatively drip free.

Before you begin pop a couple of saucers in the freezer (trust me on this one), and put your jars, lids and a ladle in the dishwasher (or give them a really hot wash by hand). Also put the oven on a low heat – when your jars come out of the dishwasher put them on a baking tray and put them in the oven to dry and stay sterile.

Then chuck your strawberries in the pan and add the sugar. Some recipes say to warm the sugar but I never bother.

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Turn the heat under the pan on low and give your strawberries and sugar a good stir so they are well mixed.

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Keep the heat fairly low until the sugar is dissolved, then you can whack it up and get it boiling. I like to give it a helping hand and squish the strawberries against the side with my wooden spoon. But that’s probably more for my amusement than anything else. This is what it looks like early on when it’s boiling.

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Some folk like to use a thermometer, and apparently the setting temperature is 105 degrees centigrade. I prefer the old fashioned method of cold plates. Largely because I get to taste the jam as it cooks.

When it starts to look jammy in texture – like this

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take one of your plates from the freezer and put a teaspoonful of jam on it. Pop it in the fridge to cool and then slide your finger in it like this:

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You are wanting it to crinkle away from you and leave a clear space where your finger was. In this photo it’s too soon, so keep on boiling until you get this kind of result:

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It’s not rocket science – it will look like jam not purée!
Then it’s time to skim off the scum (nice!) and get ready to fill your jars. Some people recommend adding a knob of butter to get rid of the scum.

Pull your jars and lids out of the oven and put them. Lose to the jam pan. The closer you get everything, the less mess you’ll make.

Using a ladle, spoon the jam into the jars, preferably using a jam funnel. Fill the jars to the top. The less air the less likely it is to go mouldy. Or so I like to tell myself. Immediately place the lids on, you can tighten them as everything cools.

Clean the jars up with a hot cloth when they are still warm and put nice labels in them. I found these Kilner labels in Cargo which does stock quite a few jam making things, including Kilner jam pans and jars. My personal favourite jars are from Lakeland and not just because I was brought up down the road from their Head Office. They come in 1lb and 1/2lb sizes in boxes of 12.

I experimented this time and added some Marc de Champagne (the stuff champagne truffles are made with) to the last two jars (added it to the pan before filling the last two jars) to make some tipsy jam. Looking forward to trying it out.

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Check out the finished product.

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And the real final product…

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It’s delicious!

Care to share your top jamming tips?

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