“I’m sure I’ll take you with pleasure!” the Queen said. “Two pence a week, and jam every other day.”
Alice couldn’t help laughing, as she said, “I don’t want you to hire me – and I don’t care for jam.”
“It’s very good jam,” said the Queen.
“Well, I don’t want any to-day, at any rate.”
“You couldn’t have it if you did want it,” the Queen said. “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.”
“It must come sometimes to ‘jam to-day’,” Alice objected.
“No, it can’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day: to-day isn’t any other day, you know.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Alice. “It’s dreadfully confusing!”
(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)
Just like my fictional namesake, I’m unimpressed by the promise of ‘jam tomorrow’. Tomorrow does, after all, always stay tomorrow. I try to resist the lure of the instant gratification culture, but you can take delayed gratification too far.
And then there’s the subject of jam. I make my own jam – have done for probably 20 years. It began quite harmlessly by me reading Salman Rushdie’s fantastic Midnight’s Children, for which he not only won the Booker Prize but the Booker of Bookers – and deservedly so. The main character has a special type of chutney made for him, and, chutney-making – the art of blending a variety of flavours to create a totally unique new, complex, mongrel flavour – becomes a central metaphor in the novel and for a whole way of life.
Sometimes I’m a very literal reader and so I developed a passion for making chutneys myself. To make jam was a natural follow-up. I’ve virtually stopped making chutney as I no longer eat cheese, but my jam and marmalade cupboard is still – er – jam-packed. (Ouch! Sorry…)
But why? Why go to the trouble of making jam, when you can buy some very good jam very easily? Well, there are many reasons: as with all makes, you know what goes into the jar, whereas I’d challenge anyone (except food scientists perhaps) to explain to me what all those additives and flavour enhancers are and what they might do to one in the long run.
Another reason is price. You can buy good jam – but good jam comes with a hefty price tag. Even if you buy fruit and preserving sugar, you’re likely to pay much less than if you were to buy high-price jam every time.
And I must admit that I feel a tad bored when I look at jams in shops. Strawberry. Raspberry. Blackberry. Yawn. I like using fruit that are not conventionally used in Northern European jams, such as bananas, and I like creating unusual mixes (back to Rushdie’s mongrel metaphor!), such as banana-rhubarb-vanilla, which tastes just divine. More usually, I mix berries, such as blackberries, raspberries and blueberries.
But most importantly there is the pleasure of making your own jam. This year, the pleasure started by my picking blackberries. Even though it rained a fair bit in August, it had been a good summer, and we had a bumper crop of blackberries. It took less than an hour to pick 1kg of fruit. I’d bought a punnet of raspberries to mix my blackberries with and 1 kg of preserving sugar.
Depending on which type of fruit used, the process is slightly different. As I’m using a type of fruit with lots of bits that I don’t want to end up in the jam (skin, pips), I was using quite a bit more fruit than the 1:1 fruit to sugar ratio than is normal. I pre-cooked the fruit and passed it through a sieve, discarding all the tough bits in the process. I figure that the mixture of fruit juice and pulp I was left with approximated 1 kg in weight.
Passing the fruit through the sieve is a fairly lengthy process because you don’t want to waste anything. It’s also good for toning your muscles…
Here’s the finished juice & pulp that’s about to go back into the pan with the sugar.
In the pan, you combine sugar and fruit, and then follow the instructions on the packet the sugar came in. Usually you need to bring the mixture to the boil briefly, then turn the heat down and allow the mixture to simmer. After a few minutes you can begin testing whether the jam is setting nicely. To do this, take a cool saucer (you may pre-cool them in fridge or freezer), pour a small blob of jam on it, and let it cool (that’s why you’ve cooled the saucer – it speeds up the process). If it forms a skin and is noticeably less runny than it was before, you’re probably ready to pour your jam into jars.
You can buy jam jars or simply reuse other jars, which is what I do. The jars need to be clean and you can sterilise them by warming them up in the oven at 100 degrees Celsius for a bit.
Do let them cool down slightly so you can handle them, but not completely. It helps if you can pour the hot jam into a receptacle that is already a little warm itself. I’ve got a nifty gadget that helps you get the jam into the jar. Before I got this, jam making used to be a pretty messy process…
After pouring, you close the jars and you’re done. Don’t worry if you can hear them go ‘pop’ after a while. As the jam cools, the mixture contracts and creates a vacuum, which pulls the lid shut properly. The popping is a good thing – it means that your jar is now properly sealed and your jam won’t go mouldy.
There we are: 9 jars of jam. Some of them quite small, admittedly, but I like to switch flavours frequently and thus like these smallish jars. The whole process took less than an hour. And my kitchen was filled with heavenly jammy smells for hours afterwards. What’s not to like?