On holiday, I had a lot of spare time, and so had the chance to make some jam. In fact, there was quite a lot in season in France, and in the end I made two lovely batches, one with brambles (blackberries, or perhaps I should be referring to them as mûres, as I got them in France?) and the other with local apricots from a fruit shop.
What was sort of fun was that this was jam making à l’ancienne. I had no scales, so I had to guess. So what to do? Just recall the old “three-quarters” rule. Cook the fruit just long enough for it to soften and release its juice, measure the lot, then add three-quarters of that volume of white sugar. So if you have two cups of stewed fruit in its juices, then add one-and-a-half cups of sugar. Then add lemon juice and boil gently until the jam sets. And if it all went wrong, I would just have a lot of fruit compote to mix with yoghurt for breakfast.
In the end, I am very happy to declare both batches a complete success. The bramble jam was superb, with a rich, deep purple colour and fresh, juicy flavour. The berries went from bush to jam to breakfast in less than 24 hours! It also set perfectly, which was happy with. The apricot was also great – a bright, vibrant, sunny orange colour, and very fruity-tasting, and while it thickened, it didn’t set. I don’t know if more lemon would have made a difference, but I didn’t want to overpower the flavour of the apricots. In both cases, as there was more fruit than sugar, the jam was actually not overly-sweet. I know this sounds bizarre given how much sugar we’re talking about even in my version, but if you use equal parts of fruit and sugar, you’re getting into the world of fruit-flavoured sweets rather than jam.
So on holiday, no excuses not to make jam! Get out there and enjoy what the local area has to offer. Just remember a few tricks and it’s easy. Firstly, the three-quarters rule will usually work. Secondly, the juice of a lemon will help to set the jam. If you don’t mind a stronger lemon taste, then you can add the juiced lemon to the jam as it cooks, and remove it once the jam is done. If you’re making a lot of jam, you might add even more lemon juice, but just wing it – that’s what my grandmother did, and her jam rocked. Finally, cook jam gently – you can test regularly for a set, but you want to make sure that you don’t go too far in case the sugar caramelises (then the jam is still edible, but the caramel taste is a little strange!).
And in the end, we mashed the jam up with yoghurt anyway for breakfast. And it was delicious!
For bramble jam:
Wash your berries and place into a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water. Mash some of the fruit, cover the pan, and cook gently until the fruit is soft and the juice comes out of the fruit (around 20 minutes).
Measure the volume of the fruit. Return to the pan, and add three-quarters of the amount of sugar by volume. Stir well, and add lemon juice (roughly one lemon per 500ml of fruit juice), plus the rest of the lemon (if using).
Bring the mixture to the boil, them simmer gently until the jam sets(*). Once ready, remove the scraps of lemon, and pour into sterilised jars(**) and seal.
For apricot jam:
Wash your apricots, remove the stones and cut into quarters. Place into a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water. For every 20 apricots, add a cup of water. Cook the fruit gently until soft and mushy (around 20 minutes).
Optional: Meanwhile, take 5 apricot stones, crack them open and remove the kernels. Put them into a cup, pour over boiling water and leave for 30 seconds. Drain, and peel the seeds. Add these to the apricots. This will give a very subtle bitter almond note to the finished jam.
Measure the volume of the fruit. Return to the pan, and add three-quarters of the amount of sugar by volume. Stir well, and add lemon juice (roughly one lemon per 500ml of fruit juice). Don’t add the scrap pieces of lemon, as they will overpower the apricot flavour.
Bring the mixture to the boil, them simmer gently until the jam sets(***). Once ready, remove the scraps of lemon, and pour into sterilised jam jars and seal.
(*) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little jam on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a moment. Push with your finger – if the jam “wrinkles” when you push it, the jam is done. If it stays liquid, then cook longer and check again later. This is why you are better to cook gently but for a longer time, as if you miss the set, the sugar will start to caramelise, and the jam will be very thick, sticky and syrupy.
(**) How to sterilise jam jars? Wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 120°C / 250°F for at least 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, and fill with the jam. You can leave the jars in the oven with the heat turned off until you need them, as this keeps the glass warm, and warm glass is much less likely to crack when you add warm jam (science, eh?). Remember to sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling them in a pot of hot water for a few minutes.
(***) Apricot jam might not set, and instead it just goes very thick. Either add more lemon juice (or liquid pectin, if you have this), or accept that this will be a runny jam and learn to love it. It’s bright orange, how couldn’t you love it?