05 August 2014


raspberry jam at the beginning of the process
I've got a pot of apricot-chili barbecue sauce bubbling on the stove. But as I don't yet know how it's going to turn out (I messed with the recipe), I'm not going to tell you about that right now. I have been meaning to tell you about jam, though, cunningly illustrated with photos from my last jammin' session (the kind on the stove, not with a guitar).

all of ONE jar of raspberry jam!
The event in question involved raspberries and black currants, both from our garden. Well, the currants are strictly speaking from the neighbour's garden, but they hang over the fence, and the neighbours are glad if we clean off our side of the bushes. The raspberries are genuinely from our garden, planted just three years ago. The bushes grew quite nice and big, but unfortunately, they got shorted on water while they were fruiting this year, so the berries were for the most part too tiny to pick. Ah well. I did get half a pound (200g) of berries off the bushes (ooh, aah!), and turned them into jam. That's right. It made precisely one jar, and I hope it's tasty (I also hope to buy some more raspberries at the farmer's market, if there's any left, and make more of the stuff, as it's popular around here).

Raspberry jam is one of the easiest jams to make. The biggest amount of labour is in picking the berries, actually - once that's done, you just wash them, dump them in the pot with sugar, boil, and you're done. To be specific: I make my jam by weight, European style. Five parts berries, four parts sugar, so 1kg of berries to 800g of sugar, or, in this year's case, 200g berries to 160g sugar. For jam, I never use commercial pectin, it works quite well without, and I like the taste much better that way (jelly is a different matter; I have yet to manage a jelly without pectin. I might try it with the concord grapes this fall.).

a rolling boil
The basic jammin' technique is as follows: put the berries in the pot with the sugar, stir. Start boiling on high heat (jam always runs on high heat, never turn it down), stir a lot. Bring to a rolling boil, which means it boils so hard you can't stir it down (see picture). A rolling boil rises really high in the pot, to about twice the height of the original mix, so leave lots of room in the pot. Boil for a while (it varies according to recipe - for raspberries, just a few minutes; strawberries and peaches, more like fifteen minutes). Skim off the foam and put in a cup; it's really tasty on toast. Take pot off burner. Immediately ladle jam into scrupulously clean containers. With jam, I don't bother either sterilising the jars, or hot-water-bath processing them; jam is preserved by its sugar content, not a vacuum seal like other canned produce. I do use the screw rings with the metal lids (which I boil in hot water) and put them on immediately; the heat from the jam is usually enough to seal the lid to keep dust, bugs and air out (the latter will dry the jam out, which isn't so lovely). But you could even just tie some waxed paper or cellophane over the top; it just wouldn't keep as long as in properly airtight jars because the top of the jam will dry out eventually. (As far as keeping quality goes, this kind of jam in well-closed containers could literally last for several years on a cool dark basement shelf. It's best in the first year, and generally it gets eaten long before then, but, you know, just sayin'.)

jelly test (see the drip?)
One more thing: with many jams and jellies, you know they're boiled enough when you can do the jelly test, i.e. when a drop of jelly running off the spoon sort of hangs together (see picture). With raspberry, that's not the case; it'll be completely runny when you put it in the jars, but as soon as it cools it sets up nice and firm-ish. As I said, it's the easiest jam to make - no pitting, peeling, stemming or other fussing with the fruit, and it pretty much always turns out. Well, so far it did for me.

black currant skimmings
The black currant jam needed a bit of a different technique, and it didn't turn out terribly well this year - too runny. But still very tasty. I use the recipe from Marguerite Patten's book Step by Step Cookery (it's Brits, from 1963, quite amusing). It calls for 1 lb. black currants, 3/4 pint water, and 1 1/4 lb. sugar;  you boil the fruit and water first until the currants are soft, and then proceed as above. As I said, mine turned out a bit too runny this year; it should be really great on pancakes.

Life, the Universe, and This Year's Jammin'. Come on over and try some.
the completed glory

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