Category Archives: Jess’ Master Class

A New Season Nearly Here!

Well, when I woke this morning at 7:00am and opened my eyes to sun streaming in through the window, my heart was suddenly lifted with the thought that the new season is nearly upon us. One of my favourite exercises, as the new season approaches, is to have a good sort out of the bottles and jars in my cupboard. It’s always a bit of a mystery to me as to how I seem to end up, every new season, with so little glassware. All the people I give my produce away to religiously return the empties, yet still I end up in deficit. Still, secretly I’m glad as it gives me an opportunity to indulge myself in looking through the Wares website and planning which bottles and jars I’m going to use for which preserves. I’m like a big kid in a candy shop truth be known.

Elderflower Champagne Bottles

bottles

And wow, what a selection to choose from. The first job of the year is to make the elderflower champagne. In my case the non-alcoholic variety, but whichever is your preference Val has a lovely selection of bottles to put it in. Last year I used the 1 litre swing top lemonade bottles which gave a real period look to the champagne. I did find however that I was wasting quite a bit as I’m the only one who drinks it in my house and it does tend to go flat a bit quick. This year I’m going to bottle the stuff for my own consumption in the screw top beer bottles Val sells. She’s got a nice selection of lids to go with them. I think with a natty label they’d look quite good and are just the right size for one person.

Early Gooseberries – Good for Bottles & Jars

bottles

Of course next on the preserving itinerary are the early gooseberries. Now I always make gooseberry and elderflower jelly, not because I like it – can’t stand gooseberries – but because it is the benchmark that tells me the new jam season is upon us. It’s a ritual for me; a bit like the druids spring solstice. Fortunately, I have plenty of gooseberry lovers around me, so it doesn’t go to waste. I personally think that it, and in fact almost any light coloured jelly, has to go in a gourmet jar. Don’t know why it’s just one of those deep seated aesthetic judgements which, I suspect knowing my artistic talents, is much misguided but nonetheless it’s one I’m wedded to.

On something more to my palates liking, another great heralder of spring is the forced rhubarb. I planted a new crown last autumn and have just removed the protective fleece to be greeted with a little eruption in the soil telling me all is well and the shoots are on their way. Early rhubarb and ginger jam is not only one of the most beautiful preserves you will ever make but also one of the tastiest. The jar dilemma – well you know it does look rather nice in a vintage style jar. Rhubarb has that old Victorian cottage garden feel about it so a jar to match is rather fun.

Finally, for all those who are lucky enough not to have already consumed their lifetime allocation alcohol, as I have, there is the ultimate early spring pleasure of laying down the rhubarb wine. There is no better than early forced spring rhubarb for flavour and colour and to ensure the colour remains it should be bottled in green glass wine bottles and stored in a cool dark place – delicious!

That’s early spring sorted, what’s next in the calendar? Hmmm, perhaps best to leave it a little while. I can already picture my wife’s face when this first order from Wares arrives. Prudence suggests I use a few bottles and jars up before thinking about late spring and early summer. The lovely thing with Val is you can do that. She gets her orders out so fast and she is so reliable, you don’t have to worry about being stuck with your fruit and no jars to put it in.

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Demystifying Jam Making

jam making

My Christmas jam making exploits…

I was making some glorious Christmas jam the other day from a recipe given to me by my great friend Gloria. We met through my own blog as she has a passion for pickle and jam making. In fact she makes jams and chutneys and sells them to raise money for AIDS orphans in South Africa. She’s South African herself you see, now living in Oz, long story, but still supports the local community back home. Now the recipe she gave me was one the old Dutch settlers used to make for a Christmas treat. It’s absolutely delicious; just like taking a mouthful of Christmas if you know what I mean. What’s more with a bit of Christmassy food colouring and Val’s lovely gourmet food jars, it would make a terrific present for that awkward to buy for aunt. I thoroughly recommend you make some, just click here for the recipe.

However, I digress, the point is on first boiling the jam wouldn’t set, so I fiddled with a few things and soon it was behaving perfectly. But it did make me think how many people would have thrown their hands up in horror at that point and given up or indeed how many people don’t even embark on jam making because they think it’s too difficult. So I thought what a nice idea it would be to put the record straight. Jam making is in fact very simple. The first step to having confidence in jam making is to realise that it’s not some black art, but a reproducible scientific process. Don’t let the word scientific put you off either, all I mean is if certain things are there in the right order and quantity it will work every time.

If we start by knowing what jam is, then we start to demystify the process. Jam is a water based gel, made from pectin that binds together in a latticework, literally holding the water or fruit juice in place to make it “solid,” in the same way as gelatine holds the fruit jelly together in your trifle. To make this happen we need to have sugar present which acts like blotting paper soaking up lots of the available water, forcing the pectin to come together and make the lattice. Most importantly, this process will only occur in an acidic mixture.

jam making

D-Galacturonic Acid the building blocks for jam making

Wait a minute I here you shout, you’re just like the rest of them. You bandy about this word pectin and nobody ever explains what it is or what it does. Let’s remedy that then, right now. Pectin is a substance that is found in the skins and to a lesser extent the flesh of all fruits and vegetables. It is simply a long chain of sugar molecules, a bit like a bead necklace. This bead necklace however, has little hooks on some of its beads. When lots of these necklaces come together, it’s inevitable that some of the hooks on one necklace will get caught up with hooks on another to form a big tangled mess. Well that tangled mess is your lattice that forms the gel.

So, now we know that all we need to make jam is sugar and pectin in an acidic mixture; the question is, why does it seem to go wrong so often? Well the secret is that although those are the only things you need to make jam, they have to be present in the right quantities – and that really is the only secret!

So for nearly every jam we can say with complete confidence that; if you have 1.2kg of sugar along with a generous teaspoon full of citric acid for every 1kg of fruit pulp/juice your jam will set. In fact if you have your ingredients in these proportions there will be no need to boil the jam for any longer than 30 seconds to a minute, meaning you keep all the great flavour of the fruit. You can always tell if you have the right ratio of ingredients as you will get a boil that looks like the picture. I like to describe it as being like volcanic lava.

jam making

Rolling boil when jam making

And that really is it! Okay, I can hear all the health conscious jam making experts shouting at the screen and yes I’m fully aware that jam can be made with far less sugar using specially adapted pectin and of course we will go into that process some other time for those that want to watch their, and more importantly, their kids sugar intake. But for now if you follow the simple rules we’ve outlined here you won’t go far wrong when making, shall I say, “traditional” jam. Next time we’ll take a good look at the equipment we need to make our jam making not just easy for us but also hygienic. Until then I hope this has gone some way to demystifying your jam making successes and more importantly failures.

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