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Issue 26 - Get set to make great jam

Scotland Magazine Issue 26
April 2006

 

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Get set to make great jam

Sue Lawrence preserves an old tradition

Making jam is not difficult. All it requires is fruit in prime condition, sugar and a bit of time spent in the kitchen.

It also helps to understand what makes jam or jelly set: pectin, a natural substance that binds the fruit pulp with acid and sugar.

Some fruit, such as strawberries, brambles and cherries, have low pectin levels and so extra pectin must be added to ensure a good set.

Others, such as cooking apples, raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants and gooseberries have higher pectin and set without any help.

In the olden days you had to add lemon juice or bottled liquid pectin, but now it is much easier to make jams and jellies with fruits with low pectin as you can buy special ‘jam sugar’ which has added pectin powder. This ensures a good set with a minimum of boiling, thus retaining the full fruity flavour and vibrant colour.

Because it is so easy to make, there is no excuse for tiny plastic tubs of tasteless commercial jam in hotels with good kitchens, when home-made is so much more delicious.

It also shows that the kitchen truly cares about every aspect of your stay, whether in a hotel or in your own home.

And if anyone says: “It’s only jam,” then they have obviously never tasted home-made!

There is an even easier jam that needs hardly any cooking: freezer jam. To make this, you simply boil equal amounts of fruit (raspberries are best) with jam sugar, boil for three minutes then spoon at once into freezer-proof containers and cover when cold. This is stored in the freezer then defrosted an hour before use.

To check if the jam is ready to set and be potted, spoon a little boiling jam onto a cold saucer, wait a couple of minutes then push with your finger to see if it wrinkles. If so, it is ready to pot.

You can also use the microwave as in my lemon curd recipe here, it is so much easier than standing over a double boiler stirring until your arms ache.

You do not need any special equipment for jam-making, unless you are making vast quantities, in which case a large jelly pan is a good idea. Otherwise, all you need is a large saucepan, a long wooden spoon (long is essential as it will splutter dangerously) and jam jars. For the latter, just recycle old ones from commercial jam or honey, then make your own label and give as presents. Or keep for yourself, to be dolloped luxuriantly onto crumpets, toast or spread thickly into a plain sponge cake. Nothing simpler really.

RASPBERRY JAM WITH DRAMBUIE

I think raspberry jam is the easiest of all jams to make, as the berries have a high pectin level, therefore should cause absolutely no problem in setting. The flavour of Drambuie goes perfectly with all summer berries, but especially with raspberries. (makes 3 x 450g/1lb jars)

1kg/2lb 4oz fresh raspberries
1kg/2lb 4oz preserving sugar
15g/1/2oz unsalted butter
1tbsp Drambuie

1. Place the raspberries in a large saucepan or preserving pan (the wider the pan rim the better, for jam and chutney-making). Simmer very gently in their own juices until soft – about 20 minutes.

2. Add the sugar and, stirring well, heat gently until the sugar dissolves.

3. Add the butter (this eliminates any scum), bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 25-30 minutes or until setting point is reached: place some on a cold saucer; let it cool quickly and draw your finger through it – if it wrinkles, it is ready.

4. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the Drambuie and pot at once in warm sterilised jars.

5. Either seal at once or when completely cold.

6. Label and store in a cool dark place.

STRAWBERRY JAM

Since strawberries are low in pectin, I advise using sugar containing pectin. (makes 3 x 450g/1lb jars)

1kg/1lb 4oz whole fresh strawberries, hulled
1kg/1lb 4oz sugar with pectin
the zest of 1 small orange
7g/1/4oz unsalted butter

1. Place the strawberries in a large preserving pan in layers with the sugar an orange zest. Leave to stand for 1 hour, stirring once.

2. Place the pan over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a full rolling boil, add the butter and boil rapidly for 4-5 minutes or until setting point is reached: place some on a cold saucer, let it cool, then draw your finger through it. If it wrinkles, it is ready.

3. Remove from the heat, leave to stand for another 30 minutes. Pour into warmed, sterilised jars and either seal at once or when completely cold.

4. Label and store somewhere cool and dark.

LEMON CURD

This is an easy lemon curd recipe, as it is all done in the microwave. Instead of standing stirring over a double boiler for ages, you simply pop it into a microwave for about half the time. It is, however, important, to stir often, otherwise you will have lemon-flavoured scrambled eggs, not fresh lemon curd. (makes 3 x 450g/1lb jars)

250g/9oz unsalted butter
450g/1lb granulated sugar
350ml/12fl oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
the grated zest of 6 large lemons
6 medium eggs, beaten and sieved

1. Place the butter, sugar, lemon juice and zest in a large microwave-proof bowl and cook, uncovered, on high for 3-5 minutes, until the butter has completely melted and the sugar dissolved; stir every minute.

2. Cool for a couple of minutes then whisk in the sieved gradually.

3. Cook uncovered on high for about 5-8 minutes, checking and whisking every minute. Remove once the curd has thickened: you are looking for the consistency of lightly whipped cream – it will firm up on cooling.

4. Pour into warmed sterilised jars, tap the base of the jars to level the surface and cover only when complete cold.

5. Keep the jars in the refrigerator for up to six weeks.