Jam-making - I strongly recommend it as an antidote to dispirited feelings in a Pandemic! It’s uplifting when a tray of ripe apricots tinged speckled pink-y orange is offered for jam-making at a good price. Because of the flavour and smell of the fruit, the sun locked up in them, the job of splitting and stoning is a pleasure; or it could be a box of raspberries and another of red currants - this particular combination, a tried and tested idea, is a winner. The sweet flavours of berries are balanced by the acidity of currants which also give pectin to help set the jam. With Jam-making you don't have to do anything very fancy, just make it as the produce ripens - cherries, strawberries, raspberries, apricots, peaches, plums of all kinds, blackcurrants, blackberries - as the season turns, they are all grist to your mill.
The feeling of laying up stores, hopefully to share with guests once we all travel again, is cheering and satisfying.
Here’s a recipe that worked particularly well in 2020.
2 kg of stoned apricots
2 kg of preserving sugar*
aprox 1/2 lt water - not much is needed as the juices will flow
juice of 1 lemon
*Preserving sugar has added pectin to help set the fruit, which means a shorter boiling time. It is available in most supermarkets during the jam-making seasons.
Assemble clean pots, probably about 8 for this amount.
Put all ingredients into a wide pan, gradually warm so the sugar melts and the fruit starts to cook.
A jam thermometer is useful! Put into the pan from the start.
When you see that the sugar has dissolved and that the apricots have softened, turn up the heat to boil fiercely, get a real rolling boil, with froth on the top. Check the temperature. When you see the mixture has reached the jam point on the thermometer, start testing a drop on a saucer, put in the freezer for a minute or two. If/when it wrinkles as you draw a finger across it, remove the pan from the heat quickly or it will set too firmly.
It can happen fast when you use preserving sugar.
Now is the moment to ladle into warmed, clean pots. The bottom of the pan will be getting sticky and overly set so scoop it onto a saucer or small dish and eat it for tea or breakfast the next day!
When cool, put the tops on ( I usually use some jam papers under the tops), and label. Whose morale would not be boosted seeing the pots lined up on the kitchen counter?
If you think there is a secret to making good jam, let me reassure you. Jam has been made for centuries often by country folk who could barely read. They had no thermometers let alone secrets. The only “secret” is excellent fruit. One thing is sure, although not secret, is that there is no point in using fruit out of season - it doesn’t have to look perfect but it must be bursting with flavour.
Many wine making families have old fruit trees, and it was common, perhaps will be again, for them to harvest and preserve fruit as jams, or in the freezer, to use during the harvest. Every picker needs breakfast - home made jams are a bonus. Home frozen raspberries make a simple desert with ice cream, bottled cherries can go into a clafoutis - this is the sort of thing that makes pickers want to return to the same domaine each year.