Tag Archives: jam making

The Art of Jam Making

jam making

Is jam making an art or a science? Well the commercial jams you find in the shops are definitely more of a science – a bit chemical and unnatural. However making jam at home results in an entirely different product – a bit lyrical, beautiful and definitely artistic.

The history of jam making

Jam didn’t become really popular until the 19th century because sugar had been too rare and expensive up to this point. Fruit was sometimes preserved in honey to make a kind of jellied sweet. However the arrival of West Indies sugar made jam a much more affordable treat and an essential for the working classes, whose bread was rather dark, coarse and unappetising.

Commercial jams even then contained less fruit and more sugar, whereas a homemade version tends to use the opposite ration and is far more flavoursome and satisfying as a result.

Jam making basics

Jam is essentially a very simple mixture of fruit and sugar, thickened by strands of pectin weaving its way through the mixture. Start with a equal quantities of fruit and sugar and play with the recipe until you find the ratio that best suits you but be careful – if you cut out too much sugar the jam won’t set and if you use too much it will go hard.

Almost any fruit can be preserved as jam but you usually get better results from less ripe fruits – over ripe fruit contains less pectin and acid. Some fruits naturally contain lots of pectin for an easy set, such as quinces, grapes and blackberries, while for others you will need to add some pectin to make the jam set – rhubarb, apricots and strawberries need extra help. Lemon juice can have the same effect in some cases.

Start by heating your fruit gently until it is tender but still holds its shape. If your fruits are moist they can be cooked alone but for drier fruits you’ll need to add a little water. To release pectin from the fruit you will have to bring it to the boil. Strands of pectin fibre are what hold jam together and can be added by using special preserving sugar, by adding lemon juice or by mixing higher pectin fruits with lower pectin varieties.

When you add the sugar, allow it to dissolve completely, stirring regularly, before bringing the mixture to the boil. You can stop stirring now and allow to bubble away for five to 20 minutes or so before checking for a setting point.

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Learn Jam Making

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Wares of Knutsford can help you learn the art jam making this summer with a range of kits and books all about preserving. Whether you are a novice or a preserving expert, you will find our kits useful and our well curated selection of books informative.

Jam making kits

There are two kits available at Wares of Knutsford. The first is the standard kit, which contains a high quality, nine litre stainless steel maslin pan – the foundation of any preserving kit, plus a jam funnel in stainless steel, a glass jam thermometer, 200 wax sealing discs, 30 jar labels in a monochrome design, 12 jars plus lids in a choice of gold, silver, black or white, a wooden spoon and a copy of the Favourite Country Preserves book. All you need is ingredients.

There is also a deluxe kit, which includes the same nine litre stainless steel maslin pan, funnel, thermometer, wax discs and wooden spoon, plus a pack of 18 decorative labels from the Words fo Art range, 12 hexagonal jars with lids in a traditional red gingham design and the River Cottage Handbook on Preserving.

Both kits offer great value either as gifts or as the first step on a preserving career.

Jam making library

Wares of Knutsford’s preserving book selection covers both traditional and modern styles. Basic Jams, Preserves and Chutneys by Marguerite Patten, First Preserves by Vivian Lloyd and Favourite Country Preserves by Carol Wilson can all help beginners to achieve a confident grasp on the principles of making jam and introduce them to some more adventurous recipes.

Beryl Wood’s Let’s Preserve It and The Jammy Bodger by Mel Sellings both bring the art of jam making up to date and offer a no-nonsense introduction to the art and science of preserving.

The River Cottage Handbook No.2: Preserves by Pam Corbin covers 75 recipes and includes a wealth of information about preserving. Introduced by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, it is part of the highly respected River Cottage collection and will become a valued tool in any jam maker’s kitchen.

Notes from the Jam Cupboard is a great reference book, detailing a wide variety of preserve recipes and ideas for how to use them. Recipes include jams, jellies and marmalades plus curds, chutneys, sauces, cordials and liqueurs.

Like our preserving kits, any of these books would make an excellent gift for a keen cook or a beginner taking their first steps in the kitchen.

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Jam Making for Beginners

jam making for beginners

Far be it from us to give away trade secrets, but making your own jam is not difficult…

Jam making for beginners might seem daunting, but once in possession of a few very basic pieces of equipment, all you need is a pile of fruit and sugar and bingo! Delicious preserves that will give you that summer taste all through winter.

Jam making for beginners: fruits and sugars

While jam is often considered the best way to use a glut of fruit that may be past its best, you’ll get the tastiest results from fruit that’s in the best condition. Go for slightly under ripe fruits as they contain the highest amount of pectin, which is needed to make the jam set. You can buy special jam sugar with pectin added but perfectly good results can be achieved with standard sugar – granulated gives a better result than caster. If you are struggling to reach a setting point, add a squeeze of lemon juice to your pan.

Setting point

Identifying the setting point is the bit that often puts beginners off but it’s really quite simple. Before you start to prepare your jam, place a small saucer in the freezer. To test your jam, drop a teaspoonful of your mixture onto the frozen saucer and leave to cool for a minute or two. Push your finger gently into the blob of mixture – if a layer of skin has formed which wrinkles when you press it, the jam is ready. If not, keep cooking and testing regularly.

Jam making for beginners with berries

Summer fruits, particularly of the berry variety, are probably the best option for jam making for beginners. Use this same basic recipe with strawberries or blackberries too, and you can make any quantity working on the principle of equal amounts of fruit to sugar.

  • Raspberry jam ingredients:
  • 450g fresh raspberries
  • 450g granulated sugar

Raspberry jam method:

Add the fruit and sugar to a preserving pan or large, heavy based saucepan and cook very gently on a low heat, stirring regularly, until the sugar has dissolved completely. Then bring the mixture to a fast boil for about four minutes or until the jam reaches setting point – it will start to thicken and bubble more slowly.

Once it has reached setting point, ladle the jam mixture into sterilised jars and seal while still hot. As the jam cools it will thicken and a seal will form. Store in a cool, dark place for up to six months and refrigerate once opened.

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Bacon Jam

Here is a great and very unusual recipe sent in by Mike Rutland. Remember we pay £10 to the creator of any recipe we publish on our blog. So get in the kitchen and start inventing!

This is not as weird as it sounds, and is actually very nice. It is best served as a savoury treat alongside cheese, however, I have also been known to spread it straight onto hot toast!

Ingredients

  • 100ml Olive Oil
  • 2kg Onions, finely sliced
  • 200g demerara sugar
  • 150g red currant jelly
  • 300ml cider vinegar
  • 50ml balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • 6 rashers of bacon, cooked until very crispy in a tray in the oven, then cooled

Method

Heat the oil in a pan to a medium heat. Add the onions and reduce the heat, cover the pan and cook long and low, stirring occasionally for 30 – 40 minutes until very soft and coloured. Add the sugar and the red currant jelly, increase the heat for about 30 minutes until it turns a dark nutty brown colour without burning.

Remove from the heat, and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. Add the vinegars and crushed up bacon. Return to the heat and cook vigorously for 10 minutes, remove from heat and pack into jars.

A Footnote from Mike

You can vary the flavours by changing the choice of bacon – smoked, green, staffordshire black, maple cured (I also make all my own bacons, hams, chorizo, salami etc) or adding in some crushed dried chillies – you can vary it to make it as unique as you want. If you want any other recipes just shout, I love cookery, I write blogs and articles for magazines, I just love to share knowledge as I think everyone should be distanced as far away from plastic shrink wrapped foodstuffs, and get reaquainted with real food.

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The Preserver’s Work Horse

maslin pan

My Old Maslin Pan – bless!

There is some controversy over the origins of the word maslin as it relates to a pan for making preserves. I guess this shows how long just such an item has been used in cooking. Some say the origins are in the old French “maselin,” a term for a maple wood bowl, others reckon an old English source from “maeslen” which meant brass. At any rate the humble maslin pan has been around for a long time and many swear by it as an essential in the art of good preserving.

I personally, have a lovely old maslin pan made from aluminium with a wrought iron handle. It came from my dear wife’s maternal grandmother. She was a great one for making jam and marmalade although her house speciality was pickled red cabbage. I was privileged enough to meet her in her latter years, a miner’s wife she still cooked on an open range, which also supplied all the heat for the little cottage – what a dear lady! Now I do believe that pan was handed down to her from her mother which must make it one of the earliest kitchen utensils made from aluminium. I must say it is quite a treasure.

But what of the maslin pan of today, and what do we want from a good example. Well there’s been a lot of controversy over the use of aluminium for cooking pots with some believing long term exposure can cause all sorts of awful afflictions not least of which being Alzheimer’s disease. Whether this is true or not and although I own an aluminium example myself, I think on balance I would plump for stainless steel. It’s robust, easy to clean and completely inert allowing complete peace of mind especially if a lot of vinegary chutneys are being made that might just eat away at the aluminium variety.

A sturdy handle is essential, preferably with some sort of grip and most importantly, if made from metal, insulated from the pan itself by some form of insulated bearing. In a momentary lack of concentration grabbing a hot handle can have tragic consequences when dealing with several litres of scalding hot jam. A pouring lip is also desirable when trying to direct piping hot jam into jars.

When to use a Maslin Pan?

So much for the credentials but how and when should your maslin pan be used. For making chutneys the maslin pan can be used from start to finish and is a wonderful vessel for the job. Its large diameter to height allows for maximum evaporation of the water when boiling, so chutneys cook quickly and maintain the freshness of the ingredients.

maslin pan

A lovely red enamelled maslin pan available from Wares

For jam making on the other hand the maslin pan must only be used for the second stage when the sugar is added. Never use a maslin pan to boil and soften your fruit. This should always be carried out in a closed saucepan; or stock pot for larger quantities. When boiling the fruit all the moisture should be retained and as gentle a process as possible be undertaken. In the initial softening of the fruit we are trying to tease out all the flavour from the fruit and capture it in the juice. Using an open topped vessel like a maslin pan for this will cause all the flavour compounds to escape to the atmosphere. When the fruit is boiled however, we want to add the sugar and bring the whole thing to the boil as fast as possible and for that the maslin pan reigns supreme. Its large bottom allows maximum heating from the stove and its wide open top prevents boiling over. Once setting point has been reach its large surface area makes for efficient descumming and its pouring lip makes dispensing easy.

So, as an essential piece of equipment in the preserver’s kitchen, they are relatively inexpensive and if looked after well will last a life time or even four generations as is the case with mine! You will of course find a good selection of maslin pans at Wares; just click here for the link.

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Demystifying Jam Making

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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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