Yes, I’m finally back! Not quite 10 months since my last past, but that is still one looooong blogging hiatus. And it is all down to me trying to get to grips with parenthood. I’ve discovered that I’m better at this whole lark than I ever thought I would be. But what happened to my time? I somewhat naively imagined that I would have at least some time to indulge my hobbies in between trips to the playground, making wholesome baby food, and becoming an expert of the best children’s programming that Cbeebies has to offer. Well, that was just pie in the sky! In fact, I don’t think I’ve even managed to read a whole novel in the last six months. And no, reading That’s not my bunny/reindeer/cow/dinosaur twice each day doesn’t count.
That said, things are now finally getting back to something that looks a bit more like normal, even if I have had to completely accept that our lives have also changed completely and forever, and that we’re really adjusting to the “new normal”. This also means that I am sometimes able to get back into the kitchen and cook and bake for pleasure, rather than to meet the demands of a hungry little mouth who wants meatballs right now. Of course there is always the threat that a little someone will wake up, so I won’t be tackling projects that require a good four or five hours to complete, so that’s most of the Great British Bake-Off technical challenges off limits for the next couple of years. Hey ho…
Today I thought I would ease back in with something simple and delicious – some lovely raspberry jam that I recently made. It would be wonderful to tell you that the fruit was picked just moments before making the jam from a row of plants at the end of my garden, but I am not that fortunate. The garden revamp is on the cards for next year, and I will be putting in some fruit bushes and trees. In the meantime I did the next best thing for use city folk. We headed to a pick-our-own farm outside London (Crockford Bridge Farm if you’re keen to do the same). And yes, you’ve spotted that I combined fruit picking with a kid-friendly day out.
Luckily for us (if not the local children) most of the schools had gone back after the summer holiday when we got there, so we were able to enjoy bucolic scenes of fields and blue skies all to ourselves. We worked our way through plump blackberries, the last strawberries of summer, more courgettes than I’ve ever seen and rows of enticing ruby raspberries.
All of this took me back to childhood summers spent picking raspberries in rural Perthshire. And the irony was not lost on me that I was now paying for the privilege of picking fruit, rather than being paid to pick it!
But it was still a glorious day out, and our two little helpers even managed to resist eating more than one or two berries before we got them weighed and coughed up the cash. And the fact that my lad and his little friend fell fast asleep almost instantly on the way home thanks to all that fresh air? Priceless!
So once I was home with this fruit, I had to think about what I was going to do with it. Some got eaten straight away, but for most of the raspberries, they just had to go into some jam. I had been thinking about this all along, as I had made sure to include a few slightly under-ripe berries to get enough pectin in the jam to ensure a good set.
Raspberry jam is one of my absolute favourites. The flavour is sweet and tart, fruity and fragrant. It is also really so simple to make, so great for a preserving novice, and easy to get a good set without too much trouble. When you get into jams and marmalades, you will obsess about the setting point – is it ready? Do I need to boil it for longer? Did I make a mistake using normal sugar rather than jam sugar? But these are usually non-issues if you are using raspberries!
Some recipes suggest mashing up the fruit and letting it sit overnight, but I find that you don’t need to wait that long. Throw the fruit and sugar in a pan, mash it up and let it sit for 20 minutes or so. The sugar will start to dissolve in the fruit and draw out the juice. Then it is a simple case of bringing the lot to a boil, adding some lemon juice at the right moment, and that’s more or less it. Then in no time you can be enjoying colourful, fragrant and deliciously tart raspberry jam on scones, toast or even swirled through natural yoghurt.
• 750g raspberries
• 750g granulated white sugar
• small knob of unsalted butter, size of a hazelnut (optional)
• juice of 1 lemon
1. Pick through the berries to make sure there is no spoiled fruit or insects lurking in there. Put the raspberries and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Roughly mash until the fruit and sugar are mixed, then cover and leave to sit for 20 minutes.
2. Place the pan over a medium heat until it comes to a boil. Add the lemon juice and butter if using(*), and cook on a rolling boil for 5 minutes. After this, start to check for a set (**).
3. When you have a set, remove the jam from the heat and leave to sit for 10 minutes (it will thicken slightly – this helps to ensure the pips are evenly distributed in the jam and don’t sink). Decant the hot jam into sterilised jam jars(***), seal and leave to cool.
(*) Butter in jam? I find this helps to reduce the amount of scum that forms on top of the jam during cooking – and sometimes the scum will vanish completely when the jam is left to cool before being put into jars!
(**) How to check for a set? Use a thermometer and check the jam has reached 106°C (223°F). Or drop some jam on a chilled plate – allow to cool for a moment. Push with your finger – it should wrinkle. If you don’t get a wrinkle, boil the jam for 2 more minutes then test again. I actually do both tests – I use the electronic thermometer, then drop some jam on a plate, because this is what my mum did and I like doing it!
(***) 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 100°C / 210°F for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, allow to cool slightly (they should still be warm) and fill with the hot 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