I’ve had a lot of jam in my life, as I’m sure more people have. On toast, on crumpets, in porridge, in doughnuts, with scones, with tea – the options are really endless. And I can happily extol the virtues of a good jam too – setness, colour, flavour, texture etc.
But the making of jams was always so mysterious to me. I never really took the time to figure it out or read into it. I go to Fortnum & Mason‘s Marmalade Breakfast and always marvel at the results. It involved fruit, sugar, heat and then it just magically comes together into a set form. And it always tastes good. Then again, they are always award winning preserves.
I guess what I was really scared of about the whole jam making process was how it would keep. How can the preserves last for six months or more in storage without, well, preservatives? Why wouldn’t it go mouldy or get contaminated with some toxin producing virus and give me food poisoning several months down the line?
Mostly, I guess jam making never happened for me because there are so many wonderful jams out there that I can happily eat without ever worry about “all the hard stuff”.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always wanted to make jam. When I made strawberry jam for the first time at Leiths I was so amazed that my jam set, albeit more firmly than I liked, that I had to poke it several times just to make sure. There was this amazing sense of achievement like when you make cakes for the first time and they rise and are soft and moist.
I was really excited, therefore, to have been invited to a jam-making demonstration with award-winning preserves expert and WI judge Vivien Lloyd to celebrate the re-release of her book, First Preserves, on iBooks. The new format contains some new recipes, videos and other interactive features. Luckily for me, I had the expert in front of me to ask as many questions as I wanted.
Apparently making jams with preserving sugar (the kind with added pectin) is frowned upon by serious jam makers as it makes your jam look and taste artificial. And cane sugar is better than granulated sugar in terms of the flavour. Then there’s more than one way to test for setness of the jam. But most importantly for me, she talked about how best to ensure that your jam is going to be safe to eat six months down the line!
Am I more inclined to make jams now? Yes definitely with the help of her book, which goes into much more detail about all sorts of jam and preserves. I might wait until the raspberry season though – apparently it’s the easiest jam to make without adding pectin unlike its berry counterpart the strawberry which is the hardest.
And the jam she made at the demonstration? It was a blackcurrant and chilli jam – firm set and deliciously fruity with just a hint of chilli. The recipe can be found here.