Tag Archives: preserves

Just Jammin’

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.

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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!

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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.

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To make raspberry jam (makes 3 x 450g jars)

• 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

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Filed under Afternoon Tea, Recipe, Sweet Things

Blood Orange Marmalade

A great way to bring a bit of sunshine into what can be the very grey last days of winter is to get busy with making marmalade. Seville oranges are a British favourite, as they are too bitter to use for most purposes, but they do provide a good, sharp breakfast marmalade to wake you up in the morning. However, not everyone is a fan, so I’ve turned my hand to using other citrus that gives a milder result (more being shaken aware than being slapped?), and it just so happened that I got a load of blood oranges delivered recently in my veg box.

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I know that jams, preserves and marmalades can seem like a bit of dark art, and that marmalade in particular is often thought of as being rather daunting. I think it’s really just a matter of patience. In fact, marmalade it is the sort of thing that is perfect to make on a quiet weekend when you’re just pottering around at home, as you spend Saturday juicing the fruit and shredding the peel, then boiling everything up and letting it sit. Then on Sunday, you get to do the “fun bit” with the sugar, engaging in what seems like alchemy to turn a pot of watery orange peel into a sweet, tangy and glowing confection.

I always find that there is something rather therapeutic about peeling and slicing all those orange peels, with the wonderful orange aroma filling the kitchen as you prepare and cook the fruit. All that orange oil being spritzed into the air as you handle the peel does leave you feeling rather invigorated!

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As I was using blood oranges, I was expecting this to really impact on the final marmalade – something rich and red was surely going to be my reward, yes? Some of my oranges had quite dark red skin (a good start) and when I cut into them, I was pleased by the bright red flesh and juice. I was expecting that the resulting marmalade would be a jolly red colour…but in the end, it was a deep shade of orange. A nice colour, just not red. So all in all, just a touch disappointing, but not the end of the world! And of course, the flavour was still fantastic – obviously a strong orange flavour, but without some of that bitterness that you get with Seville oranges, but not the sweet jelly you get when using the very fine peel from sweet oranges. As I had used all of the peel, not just the coloured part, it still had enough of a bitter tinge to balance all the sugar in there.

When making marmalade, you should in theory be able to get a good set using just the peel, sugar and water, and rely on the fruit membranes and pips to give you enough pectin. I’ve made marmalade this way in the past with everything from Seville oranges to grapefruit, but my experience is that you can end up boiling everything for absolutely ages. This can concentrate down the sugar, resulting in a very sweet marmalade, and I think the longer you boil everything, the more of an impact this has on the flavour, and I suspect you probably lose some of the delicate aromatic orange oils (or not – I’m a home cook, not a scientist, so just a theory of mine). So I cheat – I want everything to be done more quickly, and I want a reliable set, so I use half normal granulated sugar and half jam sugar (with pectin). Sure, it makes me a massive cheat, but it works.

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While I bemoaned the lack of a vibrant crimson colour in the final marmalade, I was able to ensure the colour was on the dark side. I used about 100g of dark muscovado sugar rather than white sugar. I think using all muscovado sugar would be too overwhelming, but using about 10% does make it a shade or two more intense, and adds a little extra something to the finished marmalade.

This recipe makes about 5-6 normal sized pots. It’s excellent on hot toast with melted butter, but it has lots of other uses. Try folding it into fruit cakes or sponge cakes for a robust orange tang, or add it to gingerbread and melt to use as a glaze. Or get very creative…add to the shaker and mix into your cocktail of choice. Try a spoonful mixed with gin and then add your tonic…

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To make Blood Orange Marmalade (makes 6 pots):

• 1kg blood oranges (5-6 oranges)
• 500g jam sugar (with pectin)
• 100g dark muscovado sugar
• 400g white caster sugar
• 100ml lemon juice
• small knob of butter (size of an almond)

Day One

1. Wash the oranges. Cut in half and juice them.

2. Take each of the pieces of peel – trim off the membranes on the inside (keep them!) and cut the peel into fine shreds.

3. Measure the orange juice, and top up to 2 litres with water. Add the shredded peel. Collect that various seeds, membranes, any peel offcuts and anything left in the orange juicer (such as pulp) into a piece of muslin, tied securely, and add to the pot.

4. Put the pot onto a medium heat and cover. Bring to the boil, then simmer for around 2 hours until the peel is very soft. When done, turn off the heat and leave to sit overnight.

Day Two

5. Strain the liquid from the pot (keep the shredded orange peel!). Squeeze as much as you can from the muslin bag – this will extract pectin, and you should notice the liquid coming through the muslin a bit thick. Once you’ve got as much as you can from the bag, discard the mush inside.

6. Measure the liquid – if necessary, top up to 1 litre. If you’ve got more, don’t worry – add it all to the pot.

7. Return the liquid to the pot with the peel and the sugar, and place over a medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Add the lemon juice and the knob of butter, then keep on a medium heat until it comes to a rolling boil. Skim off any foam that forms, and start to test regularly for a set(*). It’s hard to say how long this takes – it might be 10 minutes, it might be 40 minutes. Just be sure to keep an eye on the marmalade – burnt marmalade is not nice.

8. When you have a set, remove the marmalade from the heat and leave to sit for 12 minutes (it will thicken slightly – this helps to ensure the strands “float” in the marmalade and don’t sink). Decant the hot marmalade into sterilised jam jars and seal(**).

(*) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little marmalade on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a minute. Push with your finger – if the marmalade visibly “wrinkles” when you push it, the marmalade is done. If it stays liquid, then cook longer and check again after a few minutes.

(**) 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 marmalade. 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.

Worth making?  100% yes! This is easy to make, but the result is delicious, and I think so much better than the manmade that you can buy. You can also customise according to your preferences – you can add spices, fresh ginger or even a dash of whisky or brandy to lend a little extra kick.

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{11} Almond Jam Cookies

You might have noticed that there has been a glut of almond-flavoured goodies this year, so why stop a good thing? This recipe is based on one I saw for “Italian almond cookies” in a book that suggested filling them with flaked almonds or nuts. However, I thought a nice tweak would be to make them with a jam filling, and to use what I had made during the summer and autumn. And, thankfully, this year I made a lot of jam!

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I would love to be able to say that there was lots and lots of thought that went into the pairing of jams with these almond biscuits, with careful consideration of what would work with their nutty flavour, but the reality is that I just had a good old rummage around inside the store cupboard.

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I ended up using six different types – plum, raspberry, apricot and pear jams, which were all delicious. However, the real stars of the show were Seville orange marmalade, with the bitter citrus acting as a good partner to the sweet, aromatic almond, and the surprising pink grapefruit marmalade, with that little sharp twist providing a nice counter to the sweetness of the biscuits. I also left shreds of orange and grapefruit peel peeking out over the sides.

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All in all – I’ve very happy with how these turned out. The result was a very jaunty and colourful little selection…just in time for tomorrow’s New Year’s Eve dinner!

To make almond and jam cookies (makes around 30):

• 200g ground almonds
• 200g icing sugar
• 2 medium egg whites
• 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
• jam, marmalade or fruit paste (e.g. membrillo)
• icing sugar or flaked almonds, to roll

1. Put the almonds, icing sugar and almond extract in a bowl. Add half the egg white and mix. Add the rest of the egg white, a little at a time, until you have a smooth but fairly firm dough. If the mixture is too sticky, add an equal weight of almonds and sugar to sort it out. Wrap in cling film and chill for an hour or overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F), and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper rubbed with a dot of oil or butter.

3. Roll the dough into a sausage shape and cut into pieces (aim for around 25-30 pieces). If you are a bit obsessed, use a ruler to measure out equally-sized pieces!

4. Roll each piece into a ball, roll in icing sugar (or flaked almonds if you prefer) then place on the baking sheet and flatten slightly. Make an indent in the top and add a little jam or marmalade (be careful not to over-fill).

5. Bake the cookies for around 15 minutes until slightly puffed up and they have a golden colour.

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Victoria Plum Jam

Yes, it’s another post about preserving! Don’t worry, something savoury is in the offing in the next few days…

While I’m a big fan of picking wild fruit and doing various things with it (jam or steeping it in alcohol for a winter tipple) I also love good old-fashioned Victoria plum jam. It’s such a bright, jolly colour first thing in the morning and the flavour is delicious on hot buttered toast.

Victoria plums are really very pretty fruit. The flesh is a bright golden colour, while the skin is a mottled reddish-purple. Nice, eh?

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However, when you make them into jam, the colour from the skins infuses everything, resulting in this deep amber colour.

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This is also a great recipe if you’re a bit of a jam novice. Just take equal weights of plums and jam sugar, boil up with a little lemon juice, and you’re got some fantastic jam to see you through the winter months.

If you’re after something extra special, you can add a dash of brandy or plum schnapps to each jar just after potting and before you seal with the lid. But be careful – you don’t want to add more than a couple of teaspoons, otherwise the jam won’t set (and, eh, you probably don’t want too much brandy with breakfast?). One other little trick that I do is to take some seeds from the plums and add a couple to each pot of jam – these had a bitter almond flavour, which will enhance the taste of the jam.

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To make Victoria plum jam (makes around 6 jars):

• 1kg Victoria plums
• 1kg jam sugar
• 1 lemon, juice only

1. First, the boring bit. Sterilise some jam jars(*), and put a plate into the freezer – you’ll need this to test when the jam is set.

2. Rinse the plums. Cut each in half and remove the stones. Throw the fruit into a large saucepan with a little water. Place on a medium heat until the fruit starts to soften.

3. Add the sugar, stir well and then place on a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then keep on a slow rolling boil for around 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice, boil for another minute, then start to check for a set every minute or so – put some jam on the cold plate, leave for a moment to cool, and if it wrinkles when you push with your finger, it’s done.

4. While the jam is cooking, crack open some of the plum stones and remove the seeds. Blanch them briefly by boiling for 30 seconds, and the seeds should slip out of the skins. Split the seeds into two.

5. Once the jam is ready, ladle into the prepared jars, adding 2-3 pieces of the plum seeds. Seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

(*) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

Worth making? Yes – this is easy, delicious and a great addition to the breakfast table. And with brandy…well, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

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Box Hill Bramble Jam

If you’re in northern climes, the signs of autumn will surely have arrived. Fresher days, cooler nights and leaves on trees turning from green to red and gold. And, if you’re unlucky, there is a wild apple tree in the street that attracts a couple of really loud crows at odd hours of the night…and too early in the morning…

With this time of the year, there are benefits. Most countryside walks will yield some sort of haul, and one of my favourites is picking blackberries. I had one attempt in early September in Epping Forest to the north-east of London, but for some reason the season had not quite arrived there yet, and I came away with about twenty berries in total. This was made all the more frustrating by the fact that the blackberries lining the railway lines in south London seem to be groaning with fruit, but of course it’s rather dangerous to try picking fruit along some of the busiest tracks in Europe. Another plan was needed.

A few weeks later, I was at Box Hill in Surrey for a bit of fresh air and walking in the forest. As you can see, lovely views, green woodland and – most vital of all – lots and lots of ripe blackberries!

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I came away with about a kilogram of deep black fruit, all picked from wild bushes far from roads and beyond the reach of passing dogs and foxes. And if you look carefully in the blackberry picture, you can even spot of spider – fret not, he remained in the freedom of the great outdoors!

Once the fruit was home, I rather quickly realised that I didn’t have time to do anything with it, so the whole lot went into the freezer. This is a great idea if you’re either busy, or have been collecting berries over the course of a few weeks (for example, if you’ve got one fruit bush, you can collect the fruit over a period of time until you’ve got enough to do something more exiting). Just whip them out the night before you plan to use them, and they will be ready in the morning.

So what should I make with these blackberries (or brambles, if you’re giving them their Scottish name)? Jelly is always delicious, and I made some a few years ago with fruit from a more successful sortie to Epping Forest, but I was a little annoyed with the amount of wasted fruit pulp that gets thrown away at the end. So forget jelly – when you’ve put this much work into picking the fruit (and then removing some of the spikes from your hands) it has to be jam.

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Bramble jam is really quite special, with the fruit turning the whole thing into something black and delicious. However, I tried something a little different. First, I kept the fruit to sugar ratio on the high side, and added a little extra boost to the flavour with some burgundy wine. This gives the jam an extra richness and slight tartness. And beyond that, there really is not much more to say, other than this is utterly, perfectly delicious and perfectly suited to the chilly days of winter spread thickly on warm toast or added to yoghurt.

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To make bramble and burgundy jam:

• 800g brambles
• 600g jam sugar
• 150ml burgundy wine
• 1 lemon, juice only

1. First, the boring bit. sterilise some jam jars(*), and put a plate into the freezer – you’ll need this to test when the jam is set.

2. Pick over the fruit, removing any bad berries. Throw into a saucepan with just a little water and the sugar.

3. Place the pan on a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then add the wine. Keep the jam on a slow rolling boil for around 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice, then start to check for a set every minute or so – put some jam on the cold plate, leave for a moment to cool, and if it wrinkles when you push with your finger, it’s done.

4. Once the jam is ready, ladle into the prepared jars, seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

(*) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

Worth making? Yes – the wine is a great addition to the brambles. The alcohol will boil off during cooking, so don’t worry about getting boozy at breakfast.

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Highland Jam

I’ve just spent a few days up in Scotland. Lots of fresh air, scenic landscapes and – gasp – sunshine. Well, to be fair, the days were peppered with a few fleeting light showers, just to keep everyone on their toes, but it was mostly a case of blue skies with fluffy white clouds.

The first stop was Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. It’s a compact city on the banks of the River Ness, and was a good place for a few pints of local beer before venturing off inland.

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The main draw was a weekend in the small town of Muir of Ord on the Black Isle (actually a peninsula, not an island). The origin of this dramatic name is unknown, but there are suggestions that it can be traced back to the thick, dense forests that once covered this land, or the dark, fertile soil which grows the barley used in whisky making.

No trip to the Highlands is complete without a long walk, ideally up a large hill. The local focal point is Ord Hill, which took me past fields of cows, through pine forests and up onto the hill itself. Up on top, you could see the imposing Grampian Mountains to the south and, to the east, three firths (a Scots term which roughly means where a river meets the sea) – the Cromarty, Beauly and Moray Firths. I know this because, as our little group was sitting at the top, a man ran past, stopped, gave us the tourist low-down, then carries on running. Good timing indeed!

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When you look at much of the Scottish landscape, it is often called “bleak” or “rugged”, and people think it’s heather and not much else. Well, that’s not really true. Large parts of the country are covered in forests of pine, beech or birch, and in the middle of all these woodlands, you can find all manner of fruits ripe for the picking. Well, ripe when they are in season – Scotland is not, generally, that warm, so you do need to be patient!

One of my favourites is the blaeberry, the European cousin of the blueberry. While the American berries are large and grow in little bunches that make then fairly easy to pick, blaeberries are tiny – less than the size of a small pea! This means that if you’re lucky enough to find them, you’ll easily find yourself down on the ground rummaging around in bushes looking for your precious treasure. The plant grows very close to the ground, so you really need to be willing to crouch down, or, in my case, to reach up into awkward places along a footpath. As a result of my efforts while walking up Ord Hill, I managed to come away with a small bag of berries, as well as an elbow that had been sliced open as I tried to reach a good patch of berries, only for my foot to give way on the soft earth (luckily – superficial damage only!).

Now, I was faced with a bit of a quandary. I had easily picked more blaeberries than I had ever managed to collect in my life, but not quite enough to make something. Was it going to be a case of just eating them on muesli and yoghurt for breakfast? Well, of course not. Luckily, a bit further down the hill there were lots of wild raspberries, so I was presented with a perfect opportunity to gather some of these jaunty little red fellows.

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Now, wild raspberries are also smaller than their cultivated relatives, but they are also about six times the size of blaeberries, as well as growing on bushes. Much easier to pick! If you’ve never tried them, wild raspberries are sharper and more tart than normal raspberries, and absolutely delicious. Adding the raspberries to my blaeberry haul meant that I ended up with a large bag of free, fresh and organic berries.

I’m telling you all this because I have, for many years, harboured a fantasy that I would one day gather enough blaeberries to make jam. That way, I would be able to enjoy their flavour and bright purple colour all year round, and not just for those few months in autumn. While my little hike up Ord Hill did not quite allow this to come true, I was able to combine the blaeberries with the wild raspberries. And as it turns out, this combination is a popular flavour in Scandinavia, known in Sweden as Drottningsylt (“Queen’s Jam”). If this combination is fit for a queen, then who am I are to argue?

The recipe itself is very simple – equal parts of raspberries and blueberries, and then almost the same again of sugar (I aim for about 80% of sugar to berries by weight).

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At this point, you may wonder where I made the jam. In some kitchen up north while on holiday? Nope. I did it the hard way – transporting the berries back from Scotland to London. I was, of course, completely paranoid that they would leak juice all over my luggage, so these things were packed in multiple plastic bags, just in case. Luckily, there was no juice incident, and the fruit arrived intact, ready for a jam session.

If you’re making this with foraged blaeberries and raspberries, then chances are this is a jam you would only every be able to make in small batches. However, if you’re keen to make bigger batches, or just don’t fancy all that crouching over small shrubs, you can buy blueberries and raspberries for a similar effect. You’ll still end up with a fruity, deep red jam that is delicious on toast, croissants or stirred through yoghurt. Of course, made with berries you picked yourself…then you know it’s going to taste just that much better!

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To make blaeberry and wild raspberry jam (makes 2 small pots):

• 200g mixed blaeberries and raspberries
• 180g white sugar
• 3 tablespoons water

• 1/2 teaspoon pectin

1. First, the boring bit. sterilise some jam jars(*), and put a plate into the freezer – you’ll need this to test when the jam is set.

2. Rinse the fruit, removing any bad berries. Mix the sugar and pectin, and throw into a saucepan with the berries and water.

3. Place the pan on a medium heat. Bring to the boil, and use the back of a spoon to burst the blaeberries are they cook (the raspberries will break up on their own). Keep the jam on a slow rolling boil for around 10 minutes. Start to check for a set every minute or so – put some jam on the cold plate, leave for a moment to cool, and if it wrinkles when you push with your finger, it’s done.

4. Once the jam is ready, ladle into the prepared jars, seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

(*) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

Worth making? Yes – it’s perfect!

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That Cranberry Issue

I’m not quite sure when cranberries became part of a British Christmas. I’m sure they didn’t really feature when I was younger, but the moment when they popped up eludes me. All I know is that these days, they are available almost everywhere – in sauce, frozen and fresh.

Obviously they make a great sauce with the Christmas bird (if that is your thing), but my problem is that I tend to buy several packets of them based on the fact that they are bright red and look like something that belongs with the celebrations. All well and good, but apart from sauce, you quite quickly run out of options. Cranberries are so tart that you can’t eat them fresh, and even in baked goods they can be lip-smackingly sour (yes, there is a reason that lots of sugar is added to dried cranberries!).

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So, if you’ve succumbed to the temptation to buy cranberries, didn’t use them with dinner, and are now looking at them wondering what the heck to do with them, I have a suggestion. You can easily cook them up with that other festive favourite, clementines, and make a bright red, rather tart jam. It’s a little like marmalade (sweet, but with some tang) what can go on bread or scones, or alternatively with strong cheddar. Even if your cranberries are past their best and have been bruised, you can still throw them into the jam pot and transform them into something wonderful. The berries also have enough pectin to ensure that this jam sets easily, and you can be done with everything in less than half an hour if you’re organised. Problem solved!

cranberry_jam

To make cranberry jam:

• 600g cranberries
• 200ml water
• 500g white sugar
• 3 clementines, zest and juice only

1. Start by sterilising some jam jars(*), and put a plate into the freezer – you’ll need this to test when the jam is set.

2. Put the cranberries and water into a pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer for five minutes. Use a masher to make sure all the berries have burst.

3. Add the sugar, clementine juice and clementine zest. Stir well, bring to the boil, the simmer until the jam sets (10-15 minutes)(**).

4. Once the jam is ready, ladle into the prepared jars, seal, label and hide it somewhere.

(*) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

(**) To test for the setting point, put a spoonful of the mixture on the icy-cold saucer. Let it cool, then tilt the saucer – if the jam wrinkles, the setting point has been reached.

Worth making? A nice, if somewhat tart, jam. Good if you like cranberries, and it does make a nice change from very sweet jams at breakfast. The clementine also adds greater depth of flavour and some freshness to the taste.

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Fig Jam

Have I told you that I have a fig tree in my garden? When I moved, I was very excited to see this large specimen that already had lots and lots of fruit, and a few figs that looked as if they were approaching ripeness. Ideas went though my head about figs fresh from the garden, baked figs, figs with cheese….you name it, I was going to make it.

As summer wore on (remember summer?) a few of them got very dark indeed, and a taste test confirmed they were indeed edible. The skin was a little tough, but the seeded red interior was delicious. I relaxed, and though that all they needed was a little time. I shooed away the greedy birds, and tried to bide my time.

After a few weeks, it seemed like I had a haul of figs and could make plans. I wasn’t sure they were the kind of figs that were good for eating (the skin was still a bit tough). But surely they would be fine for that old standby, jam? And who doesn’t like a good pot of fig jam? Dramatic colour, rich flavour and that funny little “pop” of those seeds…

Well, it turns out that the answer is “these figs are sort of okay for jam”. I chopped up the figs, added lots of sugar, boiled away, then tasted the jam. And there it was – that raw “green” flavour from the fig skins. All that hope and patience – all for nothing! Not one to give up on the culinary front, I worked quickly – the lot went through a sieve (so all the pulp and seeds were saved, the offending skins left behind) and a good pinch of cloves and a dash of port went in to boost the flavour. To this day, I am not entirely sure what I have actually managed to make, but I’ll let the jam mature for a while (so the flavour of the cloves can work its magic) and I’ll see what I’ve ended up with. I’m hopeful that the passage of time will be kind, and there is still a thrill of knowing that this jam is made from stuff from my own garden.

You might think that this would be enough to put me off making fig jam, at least for a little while, but of course that was not going to happen. Just after my first batch, ripe black figs started appearing in fruit shops, and I came across a recipe flavoured with rosemary and lemon zest. It looked too good to resist, and as you can see from the results below, I am glad I gave in to the urge.

From the moment I took the figs from the bag I could tell these were of a different class to those from my own garden. Mine were soft-ish, but these seemed almost ready to collapse, and the skin was a deep, silky purple.

This is a very easy way to make jam – the figs just need to be chopped up and cooked with a little water and some sugar. I’ve seen versions that involve either pureeing the figs to get a smooth paste, or pushing the lot through a sieve, but when the figs are properly ripe, this is not necessary. The strips of fig add some texture and I think make it look much more impressive when spread on a piece of bread.

I found the lemon and rosemary worked incredibly well here. The lemon provides just a little bit of freshness and sharpness to cut through the sweetness of the sugar. The rosemary contributes a little bit of fragrance to the jam – think of hot days in a warm climate, and figs and rosemary are two of the things that come to mind. In this case, I boiled a sprig of rosemary with the jam, and added one to each of the pots that I made. Again, I will let this sit for a while, so it will be interesting to find out how it has developed over time.

In the meantime – the other pot has been opened, and I can assure you that it tastes sublime in the morning on a croissant.

To make fig jam (makes 2 pots):

• 8 ripe black figs
• jam sugar with pectin (half the weight of the figs)
• 150ml water
• zest and juice of 1 lemon
• 1 sprig of rosemary

1. Start by sterilising some jam jars(*), and put a plate into the freezer – you’ll need this to test when the jam is set.

2. Rinse the figs. Cut each in half, and slice roughly into thin strips.

3. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan, stir well, and slowly bring to the boil.

4. Reduce the heat and keep the jam on a rolling boil for 10 minutes. After this, start to check for a set every minute or so(**).

5. Once the jam is ready, ladle into the prepared jars (get the stick of rosemary into one of the jars), seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

(*) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

(**) To test for the setting point, put a spoonful of the mixture on the icy-cold saucer. Let it cool, then tilt the saucer – if the jam wrinkles, the setting point has been reached.

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Kumquat Marmalade

My compulsive shopping habit struck again, and I bought a pound of kumquats. They always seem like such a good thing to buy, especially given that they are only around for what seem like a few weeks. It’s probably longer, but in the world of the impulse shopper, you rationalise these things by thinking that this just must be too good an opportunity to pass up.

First of all, I got to enjoy eating a few of them. I love the sour centre and the very sweet skins. That zesty tang stays with you for a while, even if you only eat a few. But the prospect of munching through a whole pound of them? Probably not…

So…what was it to be? Having recently got over my marmalade phobia, I thought I would give it another try, this time with the miniature members of the citrus family. I love my bitter marmalade, but I realise that if you’re not such a fan, then something a little sweeter is probably the way to go.

The good news is that, unlike with Seville oranges, there is no tedious de-pithing involved. Just slice up the kumquats (peel, pith and flesh), remove the seeds, soak, boil and you’re done. Well, not quite good news. Removing all those seeds is actually something of a faff, but it’s a good task to do when you’ve got half an hour and a radio programme to listen to. All in all, it’s probably a rather therapeutic exercise to help forget whatever else has been bugging you during the day.

I looked long and hard for a version of kumquat marmalade that would allow me to use little kumquat discs to keep their shape. It was rather a struggle – there were lots of versions that involved squeezing out the pith and pips, and they you shred the peel into strips. Well, I’m sorry, but if you’re not going to have the dainty size of the kumquats featuring in the marmalade, then you might as well use plain old sweet oranges. I wasn’t looking for shredded peel, I wanted circles!

In the end, I just decided to wing it and go back to my basic marmalade recipe, and use kumquats instead of Seville oranges. So I boiled up the fruit the night before, then the next day cooked it up with sugar (mostly white, with two tablespoons of muscovado), lemon juice and some pectin. I was mindful that there would not be as much pectin in this marmalade as my last attempt, so it would be acceptable to use a little helping hand. And the lemon was necessary to add a little sharpness to balance all the sweetness from the sugar and the kumquats themselves.

As you can see, the result looks great and it tastes fantastic. Currently (three days later) it has a very loose set, but this seems to change over time and it tends towards a light set. The “jammy bit” of the marmalade is sweet and lightly orangy, but it’s the peel that packs the punch. It tastes strongly of citrus, and there is not a single hint of bitterness.

You’ll end up with four to five jars of sunshine in spreadable form. It’s great on warm thick-cut sourdough bread with a good spreading of butter. Let the lot melt together slightly, and enjoy!

To make kumquat marmalade:

• 400g kumquats
• 1.2 litres water
• 800g sugar
• 4 tablespoons liquid pectin
• 1 lemon, juice only
• pinch of salt
• small knob of unsalted butter

Day 1:

Wash the kumquats, then slice them finely. As you go, you’ll need to pick out the seeds, which is frankly a pain. Put the slices kumquats into a pan with the water. Put the seeds and any scraps of peel into a piece of muslin – tie the ends an add to the pot.

Cover the pan and bring to the boil, then remove the lid and boil for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the mixture. Leave to sit overnight.

Day 2:

Remove the pips and discard. Add the sugar to the kumquats and slowly bring to a rolling boil. Add the pectin, lemon juice, salt and butter, and cook the marmalade until it reaches 104°C (219°F) is using a jam thermometer, otherwise test manually(*). During the cooking process, you might have to remove any foam that appears (if you’ve used the butter, this helps keep the foam to a minimum).

When the marmalade is ready, leave to cool a little so that the marmalade thickens slightly (this helps to ensure the pieces of kumquat “float” in the marmalade and don’t sink). Decant the hot marmalade into sterilised jam jars and seal(**). Then enjoy on hot, buttered toast with a cup of tea in the morning!

(*) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little marmalade on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a moment. Push with your finger – if the marmalade  “wrinkles” when you push it, the marmalade 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 marmalade will be very thick and sticky.

(**) 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 marmalade. 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.

Worth making? This is a perfect marmalade for those that don’t like the sharpness and bitterness of the traditional English breakfast variant. The loose set means it can also be used over fruit for a citrussy lift. Highly recommended

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Lady Marmalade

I’ve developed an annoying habit of working song references into my writing. I could offer sincere apologies…but I don’t see the need! While this practice is probably acceptable in the blogging context, I am not quite so sure that my attempts to weave in references to the greatest hits of Whitney Houston went down quite so well at work. And that, dear reader, is a shame, a there are two seminal works – “It’s Not Right but It’s Okay” and “How Will I Know” that suit pretty much any situation that you will be faced with…

I digress. It’s the time of year when Seville oranges appear. Olé!

Seville oranges are good for one thing – and that is marmalade. You’ve never confuse them with juicing oranges more than once! And it’s that tangy tartness that makes for wonderful preserves.

And that’s why Lady Marmalade has been hummed with much enthusiasm recently, as I’ve been trying to get to grips with the tricky issue of marmalade. Indeed, you may wish to play it in the background (go on…go on...). You see, the thing is that while I am pretty happy to make jam or jelly, I’ve always thought of marmalade as “a bit too difficult”. However, I was in Barcelona recently, and the trees in some of the parks still bore oranges from last year, and I took that as a sign that 2012 was the year that I should give it a go.

What I do know about marmalade is that it’s a bit more of a dark art than my favourite jam, raspberry. Raspberries require no preparation, and are already pectin-rich. This means you just measure out equal amounts of fruit and sugar, add a squeeze of lemon juice, and boil until set. Marmalade, on the other hand, requires you to get the right sort of oranges. We need Seville oranges. These are rough little things, with mouth-puckerng juice and a real tang to them. Then you need to do “stuff” with the pith, juice, seeds and peel, then you need to separate out the peel, then you need to strain the mixture, then boil it…so you see why I’ve always been a bit apprehensive.

However, 2012 is going to be the year of dreams of winning gold in London, and I was going to make my marmalade. So I went looking for a recipe. What become pretty clear in no time was that there are many, many variations out there, but no single “right” way. This is probably inevitable when you’re trying to make something as traditional as marmalade. Finally, I stumbled upon a recipe by Dan Lepard which looked sufficiently easy for the novice to succeed with. It involved cutting the peel off the orange, shredding it, then putting it into a piece of muslin. Then you cook everything (and I mean everything) to get a zesty liquid, discard all the pith and pips, and just open the muslin cloth and add the zest, then boil with sugar. Simple.

Then I made it. And you know what? It was simple. I did the fruit peeling and boiling on a Saturday (filling the house with the fantastic smell of orange oil) and  left the mixture to drain overnight. On the Sunday, I boiled it up with sugar and bottled it. And now, I have six jars of beautiful marmalade, the colour of red amber and laced with delicate strands of vibrant zest.

Yes, I said strands.

Yes, I’m one of those people.

The world seems to split into those that love thick cut marmalade – with the great big chunks of peel – and those that like it fine cut. I fall into the latter camp, as I much prefer the marmalade to quiver on my toast, with lots of bits of peel sticking out. But I have a few oranges left, so I may well try my hand at a thick-cut recipe in the near future.

I couldn’t be happier with this marmalade – the method is quite easy, and the result is, frankly, stunning. The colour is beautiful, it has a delicate, soft set that quivers on the spoon, and it has a flavour that really wakes you up in the morning. Delicious!

Now just one question remains….what exactly is that magnolia wine they sang about in Lady Marmalade? Hmmm…

To make Seville orange marmalade (Adapted from Dan Leperd):

• 600g Seville oranges
• 1.1 litres water

• 1.2kg white sugar
• 2 generous tablespoons dark brown sugar (optional)

Day 1:

Wash the oranges in hot water and dry.

Cut the peel off the oranges in strips. Remove any bits of pith from the strips of peel. Cut the peel into fine strands, put into a piece of muslin, and tie very securely with a piece of string.

Cut the oranges in half, squeeze the juice into a large pan, chop the remains and add to the pot. Add any bits of pith you cut from the peel. Add the water and the bag of peel strips. Bring the mixture to the boil, then cover with a lid and simmer for around 2 hours until the peel is very soft.

Line a sieve with a piece of muslin or a jelly bag, pour in the orange mixture and leave to drain – at least an hour, but overnight doesn’t hurt.

Day 2:

Measure the liquid form the oranges – you should have just over one litre. If not enough, add a little more water.

Add the orange zest and sugar, and heat the mixture until it comes to a rolling boil. Cook the marmalade until it reaches 104°C (219°F) is using a jam thermometer, otherwise test manually(*). During the cooking process, you might have to remove any foam that appears.

When the marmalade is ready, leave to cool a little so that the marmalade thickens slightly (this helps to ensure the strands “float” in the marmalade and don’t sink). Decant the hot jam into sterilised jam jars and seal(**). Then enjoy on hot, buttered toast with a cup of tea in the morning!

(*) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little marmalade on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a moment. Push with your finger – if the marmalade  “wrinkles” when you push it, the marmalade 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 marmalade will be very thick and sticky.

(**) 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 marmalade. 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.

Worth making? I am surprised how easy this recipe for marmalade is, and the flavour is absolutely delicious on toast to give you a bit of a citrussy wake-up call in the morning. Highly recommended!

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