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Jamming to the rhythm of Summer

This year the summer fruits are real show-offs. A mild winter, sunny spring and warm wet early summer has gifted us prize fruit. The berries are in berry heaven and flaunting their assets with the flirtatious zeal of a confident wannabe celebrity. Floozies the lot of ‘em not unlike the pin-up models popular with GI’s in the 1940’s – pouting juicy, ruby red lips that look so seductive they positively incite us to take a bit out of their plump, fleshy bodies. It’s the warm sun that has ensured the high fructose and nutrient level in these little beauties and boy are they cheap!

Last week-end I bought 22 kg of strawberries at EUR 1.50 per kg. How about that for a good price? The cherries were more expensive at EUR 6 per kg but that did not deter me from buying 6 kg since they looked this early in the season like perfection. In any case cherries are always more expensive than strawberries and as the farmer told me – it’s still not, technically speaking, cherry season. They are expected to become cheaper in a couple of weeks time. Looking ahead our upcoming week-ends are too full with other activities leaving me no time to pip, cut and prepare all these cherries so I bought them last Saturday at a higher price. Last week-end was Pentecost here in Belgium and Monday was a public holiday, which gave me three full days to get the strawberries and cherries prepped for jamming.

Interestingly, as my research has revealed, jams are not the traditional recipe many of us believe them to be. It was not until it became possible to produce table sugar from sugar beets in the mid-nineteenth century and the abolition of the sugar tax that sugar became more available and cheaper to European populations. This meant that the everyday European cook was no longer dependant on processed sugar from far-flung places such as India or the west Indies for their sugar supply and, for the first time, jam became an affordable way to preserve summer fruit. Until then preserving fruit in sugar, as opposed to fermenting or drying it, had been the reserve of the very privileged only.

Robert Lustig, spokes-man for the new anti-sugar movement sweeping the United States and Europe, is convinced all sugar, because of the high fructose level, is detrimental to health. Whilst it is true that the fake sugar syrups the absent cook relies upon are best avoided cutting out all sugar from our diet is taking matters to the extreme. Sugar should be handled with caution not eliminated. In any case it is probably a lost battle to presume that modern populations, accustomed as we are, to some sweetened food will abandon sugar all together.

In any case Master in the Kitchen uses a recipe relying on lemon juice, pectin and citric acid to preserve the fruit so the cook can decided whether or not to add any processed sugar or to just rely on the sweetness present in the fresh seasonal fruit. The recipe provided does not rely on the sugar to act as means for preserving the fruit or to set the jam. With this recipe, the cook can decide how tart or how sweet they want the jam to be. The beauty of making home-made jam is that the cook knows exactly what does and does not go into that jar. Which is why on Saturday, with the help of G. and the intermittent help of the children we managed to pot 50, 580 ml jars of strawberry jam to last until the next season.

Piping, cutting and preparing 6 kg of cherry jam was a more arduous task helped that is was a pleasant summer afternoon and I could sit outside and get on with it whilst the oldest children studied for exams and G. took the two youngest to the play-park. Today, I’m going to check out the price of apricots to make one of my favourite jams. J. has expressed an interest in raspberry jam but raspberries – even in high season – are pricey affairs since they spoil so quickly once picked and packaged. The farmer who supplied the strawberries last week at EUR 1.50 per kg has promised he’ll supply me with raspberries when they are in season though he has yet to set a price. Watch this space. For those interested, below a break-down of the costing for the jams I made. Whilst they are not cheaper than the cheapest product on offer in one of Belgium’s leading whole-sale supermarkets they are roughly the same price as the market leader and certainly a lot cheaper than the organic jams.

Strawberry Jam, Saturday 6th June 2014

22 kg of strawberries @ EUR 1.50/kg: EUR 33

11 kg of raw cane sugar (organic) @ EUR 3.19/kg: EUR 35.09

22 sachets of Marmello2 @ EUR 1.06/sachet: EUR 22.32

11 lemons @ EUR 4.79: EUR 4.79

Total: EUR 95.20

This amount made 50, 580 ml jars the equivalent of 29 kg of strawberry jam

 Price of KG strawberry jamEUR 3.28/kg. 

Price of strawberry jam in Colruyt on 12 June 2014:

Boni Selection Light Strawberry Jam: EUR 2.97/kg

Materne Strawberry Jam from 2014 harvest: EUR 3.92/kg

Materne Strawberry Jam with 70% fruit: EUR 5.77/kg

Purnatuur Organic Strawberry Jam: EUR 7.76/kg

Cherry Jam, Monday 9th June 2014.

6 kg of cherries @ EUR 6/kg: EUR 36

1.8 kg of raw can sugar @ 3.19/kg: EUR 5.58

6 sachets of Marello pectin-citric acid @ 1.06/sachet: EUR 6.36

3 lemons: EUR 1.60

 Total: EUR 49.57

This amount made 9, 400 ml jars and 12, 300 ml jars = 7.2 kg

Price of KG Cherry JamEUR 6.88/kg

Price of cherry jam in Colruyt, 12 June 2014:

Materne cherry jam: EUR 5.33/kg

Everyday cherry jam: EUR 1.09/kg(!?)

Boni Selection cherry jam: EUR 3.54/kg.

Purnatuur Organic cherry jam: EUR 8.42/kg

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