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Jam making to inspire beginners!

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Post by Guest on 7th July 2010, 10:22 pm

Preserving fruit in a high proportion of sugar (often 1:1 or more) is an excellent way to provide an appreciated good food and pleasure in the colder months. Jamming your own fruit is a victory to be shared and it always makes a good present. But it is not the easiest way to preserve fruit and is a skill to be practiced and finely tuned. Even unset jam can be used as a syrup on ice ream (cheap vanilla!), in a plain yogurt, in a pudding or on crepes. Its most rewarding if you have a hungry family to feed and they are usually very forgiving…AS LONG AS YOU DO NOT BURN THE JAM.

That’s my number 1 rule. Always err on the cautious side as nobody will eat it if it is burnt, it’s a waste of your fruit, difficult to clean up afterwards and all very sad.

So here are some tips for jam making, with no frustrated tears, based on conversations I have had with scared-off jam makers.

Do you need a preserving pan? The traditional preserving pan (very easily available in France) is a wide bottom, thin metal (traditionally copper) fairly shallow pan. The reason for this is to allow rapid reduction of fluid by having a large surface area, thin metal to allow very quick adjustment to the heat transfer to the contents and wide bottom to allow a lot of heat to be applied. So it’s very different to toffee or fudge making. If you do not have a preserving pan use one that meets the criteria described above, that is about 3 times larger than the fruit and sugar before it is heated. This allows for the expansion and possible frothing up (strawberry does this a lot). Copper is the best conductor of heat but you must not use it for chutney as the copper dissolved in the acid in the food is poisonous. I do not even make lemon or lime marmalade in mine, black current is as acid as I will use it for. Aluminium will get pitted and you could think its not good for you either. Stainless steel is expensive! So no you do not need one but if you are serious jam maker you will have more than one!

Do I need a sugar thermometer? No. In fact I find if I ever use it I’m watching the thermometer not the jam, which is not good. The only time I do use it is to confirm to myself that the strawberry jam is not doing to set. The “flake test” is very useful. That is the last drip off the back of the spoon holds its shape as you let a scoop slowly flow off. The “ripple test” is my confirmation. A small blob of jam on a cold plate, cooled, will ripple as you draw you finger slowly through it.

Try making small batches. It is worth making small batches of jam (1lb/0.5kg of fruit). This allows you to gain confidence and taste what you are making. In fact there is very little economy of scale in jam making as large batches take a lot longer to cook, reduce and bring to the boil and pot! Large batches are more difficult to regulate when boiling to setting point.

What is a rolling boil? The boiling of the mixture of fruit and sugar, once the sugar has completely dissolved, must be quite strong. It is know as a rolling boil as the bubbles formed on the surface do not have time to pop before the next ones come up and so are forced out of the way by the new bubbles. So the surface of the jam looks like the bubbles are rolling towards the edge of the pan (which they are!). It is important not to boil too harshly though and stir regularly. Do not allow any jam to stick to the bottom of the pan. This is one way the jam burns.

Are all jams made the same? Well the general idea is that you cook the fruit, reduce the fluid level, bring to the boil and add the sugar. Dissolve the sugar totally, bring back to the boil, boil to setting point, skim (if necessary) and pot. There are variations though. Low pectin fruit like apricots, peaches and cherries can be laid in sugar over night to draw out their own juices so that water does not have to be added. The syrup mix must be heated very gently to dissolve the sugar without sticking to the pan. Strawberry jam is traditionally made with just the fruit and sugar heated very gently until the sugar is dissolved.

Will the jam set? This is where practice and knowledge helps. If you want to start on a definite, do black currant jam. Even with the wet spring it was at setting point in 15mins. That is even with my preferred recipe that adds quite a bit of water. The only way I get strawberry to set is not water the strawberry plants for 2 weeks before picking. That wasn’t an option this year so I’ve tried a few other tricks. (I’ll put them on another thread).

What is pectin? Pectin is the all important naturally occurring fibre in the fruit that causes the set in the jam. Some fruits are low such as apricot, peach, cherry, strawberry and blackberry. Others are very high such as all currants, lemons and apples. By combining some high pectin fruit into the low it will help the set but it will also change the flavours, especially adding commercial pectin. The main reason for using commercial pectin is for the times when a light cooking preserves a delicate flavour. I use it for fig jam.

What other equipment do I need? I highly recommend the investment into a potting funnel if you wish to produce a lot of jam. This is a very wide necked funnel that is ideal for keeping the edges of the pot clean when ladling in the hot jam. It saves a lot of time and helps make a good clean closure when the lid is applied. A ladle is important as is a skimmer to take off any froth that persists on the final jam (again strawberry is well know for this).

How do I seal the pots? I wash the pots very well then sterilise in boiling water. This also warms them. Once I have potted the jam and carefully applied the lids I turn the pots over onto their lids to force out more air. Leave inverted for 2 minutes then turn back. It is a good idea to use lids with buttons that shows the lid has sealed as it cools.

You may have noticed that I have mentioned strawberry jam is difficult to set, froths up, and scums…so it not the best one to try if you are a novice! Black currant is an easily rewarding one (just ensure you have removed any hard tails – flower ends as this will spoil the flavour and texture).

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Post by Compostwoman on 7th July 2010, 10:30 pm

I second the potting funnel, makes life a lot easier.

I sterilise jars by sticking them in the oven at about 120 ish....with the lids, the spoon (Stainless!) the funnel and anything else I might use to pot the stuff on.....

I have a very large Stainless pot which I use for a multitude of preserving, chutney, jam, soup,stock making, steaming puddings etc...so it might be worth considering getting a single large shallow pan which will do all these different functions. make sure it has no plastic/rubber bits on, just stainless and maybe a glass. lid..

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Post by Dandelion on 8th July 2010, 4:56 pm

Completely agree with you about undercooking rather than overcooking jam. One of my childhood memories was of my grandmother (a very gentle lady from Cumberland) making jam if we turned up unexpectedly for tea. She would potter down the garden and collect a cupful of raspberries from the overgrown canes, then simmer the berries in a little pan with sugar to make a little bowl of very soft conserve which would run off your bread if you didn't hold it level, but had the most wonderful fresh flavour.

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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 8th July 2010, 5:17 pm

I would advocate a heavy bottomed stainless pan rather than a thin copper one - can't see the point of a pan that will burn anything left unattended for more than a second or restrict the type of fruit I can use because of its reactive properties.

A jam thermometer is a very good investment IMO - also excellent for gauging oil temperature for fish and chips and tempura and all sorts of things. There is no need to keep glued to it, but it is very handy to be able to see at a glance how hot the pan is.

We tend to preserve fruit with much lower sugar concentrations as well - 1:2 or even 1:3 with the addition of lemon juice and a handful of cherries to encourage setting.

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Post by Compostwoman on 8th July 2010, 5:25 pm

Good point Billy, ours is a heavy SS one ( well we have several) and it gets a lot of use. it is worth paying a bit more and getting one with a thicker base, some of the SS pans available now have very thin bases and to have the preserve you have spent hours preparing ruined by uneven heating is soul destroying.

I must admit to personally not liking Copper pans at all (except as ornaments) and have avoided Aluminium ones becasue of the link between Alzheimers and Al

I use my trusty thermometer for yogurt making as well....

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Post by Guest on 8th July 2010, 6:45 pm

For those of you out there that are happy with more simple ways I can confirm you can make excellent jam in copper preserving pans with no thermometer. This is why they are still easily available to buy new in a country that just gets on with food preserving. It is highly responsive to a slight change in gas flame. A thick bottom pan is really not good for jamming as it will not respond quickly to reducing the heat and will increase the likelihood of burning.

Jamming is a sultry and solitary occupation (although it is useful to have help when potting, moving pots around) as you need the space, it is hot and dangerous and you need to have a minimum air flow over the pan when raising the temperature to setting point. Jam can never be left unattended.

Once it has the sugar in a response of "I'm jamming" should be enough to confirm that you are not available to answer phones or attend anything else. It has worked for me for many years!

I personally would never use my jam making pans for anything related to meat.

Also if you are out in the cold working, sugar is much appreciated, as is the gentle pleasures of the summer fruit flavours captured in the jam. Traditional jam does not have to be stored in the fridge.


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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 8th July 2010, 6:53 pm

So, as we can see, there a re variety of different ways of making jam to suit differnet sweetnesses of tooth and attention to pans.

Vive le difference, as they say.

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Post by Compostwoman on 8th July 2010, 7:00 pm

Yep. many different, equally good ways.

I don't use my thermometer for jam, preferring to use a cold saucer, as Zoe describes. It is useful for making yogurt, though.

And I have never burnt my jam, in all the years I have been doing this, using my trusty multi purpose stainless steel jam/chutney/soup/stock pans. one taller and narrower, one short, wide and squat.

I agree with Zoe on the "do not disturb" need, though...and not to have animals or small around! Hot jam produces appalling burns.

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Post by Sparhawk on 8th July 2010, 8:38 pm

I use a well washed & sterilised dishwasher salt funnel to put the jam into jars...

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Post by Guest on 9th July 2010, 2:24 pm

Wilhelm Von Rhomboid wrote: ...a handful of cherries to encourage setting.
I don't know who told you that one Billy , but that would do the exact opposite. Cherries are very low in pectin and cherry jam is very difficult to get a good set.

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Post by Adrian on 9th July 2010, 2:26 pm

Actually, now you mention it, I do recall that the one time I made cherry jam I had to use a ton of liquid pectin to get it to set and even then it was still runny enough to be only good enough for flavouring yoghurt.

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Post by Lakshmi on 9th July 2010, 6:59 pm

I simply follow what Marguerite Patten says in her "Basic Basics" series.

most of the recipes are for about a pound of fruit (450g) so it is fab.

I don't have time to have "jamming days" like my mom.
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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 9th July 2010, 8:03 pm

Wood Troll wrote:
Wilhelm Von Rhomboid wrote: ...a handful of cherries to encourage setting.
I don't know who told you that one Billy , but that would do the exact opposite. Cherries are very low in pectin and cherry jam is very difficult to get a good set.

Sorry Woody, i should have specified our tree is a sour black cherry tree. Not much cop for eating but great for jam.

The advantage of using natural pectin is that you don't need the diabetes-inducing quantities of sugar commercial pectins require.

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Post by Compostwoman on 9th July 2010, 8:11 pm

Thats what we have and use as well....when first I made jam from it I foolishly didn't think of that the first time and ended up with jam which we couldn't get out of the jar.....


Was nice, but solid.

having said that, this year the sunshine has made them very sweet...quite yum, actually.

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Post by Adrian on 9th July 2010, 9:33 pm

you have reminded me that I should be able to use the unsane amounts of chokecherry we have, thats a great pectin provider

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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 9th July 2010, 9:40 pm

chokecherry is another name for sour cherries, Badger

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Post by Adrian on 9th July 2010, 9:47 pm

ahhh

you see why I love this place, you learn something new everyday

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Post by Guest on 10th July 2010, 2:00 pm

Is not your's chokeberry, Badger, Aronia melanocarpa, which is not a cherry and is well know for being high in pectin (and many other good qualities)

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Post by Adrian on 10th July 2010, 2:12 pm

No, its Prunus virginiana, a native of these here parts, v similar to Aronia melanocarpa in looks and use, but a distinctly different genus.

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Post by Guest on 10th July 2010, 3:39 pm

Dandelion wrote:Completely agree with you about undercooking rather than overcooking jam. One of my childhood memories was of my grandmother (a very gentle lady from Cumberland) making jam if we turned up unexpectedly for tea. She would potter down the garden and collect a cupful of raspberries from the overgrown canes, then simmer the berries in a little pan with sugar to make a little bowl of very soft conserve which would run off your bread if you didn't hold it level, but had the most wonderful fresh flavour.

A lovely story Dandelion

Raspberry Jam/Conserve This is a really good example of a simple conserve. The raspberries must be picked fresh. I always remember the Mrs Beaton's advice "Let the fruit for this preserve be gathered in fine weather, and used as soon after it has been picked as possible". Bob Flowerdew specifies "hurry back to the kitchen". It is all about trapping that amazing flavour by not letting the fruit "go over".

The rest of the recipe will be equal weight white sugar and no added water. The raspberries are washed gently and heated carefully in a preserving pan and cooked very gently only until the fruit is soft. Add the sugar and boil for 5- 7 mins for a light set or for a fresh light conserve just so long as it takes to dissolve the sugar completely.

For a stronger set and a slightly more acid taste add 1/4 pint of red current juice before the sugar.

I make a few pots of the 5-7min boil and hide them behind the pots of more numerous jam so that they can be brought out at 3 monthly intervals and every mouthful is a pleasure and a reward for the (slight amount of) effort. My favourite jam!



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Post by Lakshmi on 16th July 2010, 7:01 pm

oh, btw, my mom has made jam for at least 50 years using the pan she cooks the pasta in and no fancychmancy things or additives.
Her jams consist of fruit + simple sugar.

I do use a little lemon juice from time to time, though.
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Post by Dandelion on 16th July 2010, 8:36 pm

Zoe wrote:

Raspberry Jam/Conserve This is a really good example of a simple conserve. The raspberries must be picked fresh. I always remember the Mrs Beaton's advice "Let the fruit for this preserve be gathered in fine weather, and used as soon after it has been picked as possible". Bob Flowerdew specifies "hurry back to the kitchen". It is all about trapping that amazing flavour by not letting the fruit "go over".

The rest of the recipe will be equal weight white sugar and no added water. The raspberries are washed gently and heated carefully in a preserving pan and cooked very gently only until the fruit is soft. Add the sugar and boil for 5- 7 mins for a light set or for a fresh light conserve just so long as it takes to dissolve the sugar completely.



Thanks Zoe - I can have a go myself now!

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Post by Dandelion on 16th July 2010, 8:43 pm

Badger wrote:you have reminded me that I should be able to use the unsane amounts of chokecherry we have, thats a great pectin provider
Are there any varities of cherry which you can't eat (i.e. which are poisonous)? There is a cherry tree which hangs over the fance from next door, which is very sour so that even the birds aren't that keen. I'm wondering if this might be worth trying for jam - or are there ornamental cherries which shouldn't be eaten?

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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Post by Guest on 17th July 2010, 11:27 am

Dandelion,
As far as I know as long as they are a type of cherrythere should not be a problem. The fact that they may not taste good is another matter, perhaps you might make a very small test batch first so you do not waste your efforts.

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Post by Guest on 17th July 2010, 3:19 pm

Dandelion - there are "Cherry-Crabs" which are a malus. Cut the fruit to see if it has a stone, if it hasn't it's not a cherry. These crab's fruits can be around for a long time.

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