For anyone tempted to try jam this year here are some handy tips on how to optimise flavour, colour and nutrition. Most jam or jelly recipes call for 1 kg of sugar with added pectin to 1 kg of fruit and to boil the fruit for as long as it takes to make the jam set – anywhere from five to fifteen minutes. Conventional jam orthodoxy still holds that the high sugar content is essential to prevent spoilage and to help set the jam.
Whilst it is true that 1 kg of sugar to 1 kg of fruit will prevent the jam from spoiling by binding the free moisture in the fruit there are, in fact, other ways of preserving jams that will keep the jam fresh in the pantry or cellar for at least a year. It is also true that 1 kg of sugar to 1 kg of fruit will help the jam to set without the aid of pectin. However, the long boil (up to fifteen minutes) obliterates some of the fruit’s nutritional benefits, it will darken the colour of the fruit and the cloying sweetness of the sugar (to my mind at any rate) crushes the desirable flavours of the summer or autumn fruits.
Since all seasonal fruits are naturally at their sweetest when ripe it is far better to rely on this to sweeten the jam than processed sugar. Though a note of caution – best not go for over-ripe fruit since that is prone to spoilage but buy fresh fruit when it is in season and plentiful.
The recipes set out here offer the cook options on how to make jam with considerably less sugar. You will not be disappointed. The reduced boiling time, will result in a fresher flavour and a more nutritious jam. Less sugar means more flavour and a less cloying sweetness, better colour and more nutrition. The pectin, the lemon juice and the bottling method ensure that the jam is preserved for at least a year though once opened the jam should be consumed within at least 14 days. Once opened the reduced sugar content means it will begin to spoil within ten to fourteen days.
In an attempt to solve some of the problems associated with conventional jam making Master in the Kitchen proposes the following basic formula:
300 gr of light cane sugar to 1 kg of fruit.
The use of ripe seasonal, not under-ripe, fruit.
The addition of powdered pectin and citric acid.
A one minute rolling boil.
Getting ready – some handy tips before you begin
Jam making is very, very easy but it can be time consuming when preparing summer berries, especially if one intends to make enough to last until the following season. In my experience it is always worth roping the family in – kids are usually happy to help out with stoning, hulling and cutting.
Like the Scouts – be prepared
Work out how much jam you think you’re going to make. There’s nothing more annoying that have to sterilise extra jars and lids last minute because there is still loads of jam left in the pot that needs potting up before it begins to set.
Sterilising jars and lids
Dirt, water and oxygen are the two spoilers that will destroy your wonderful jam, which is why it is important to follow these instructions.
For jams work with screw-top lids only. Most lids can be reused year after year though damaged ones should be discarded. There should be no cracks, scratches or chips on either the glass jar or the lids since it is essential that no oxygen enters the jar once it has been sealed. Both the lids and the jars are relatively cheap to replace. Don’t bother with Kilner or Le Parfait jars. These recipes do not require a water bath but they do require an air-tight environment which the screw-top lid provides.
Begin by placing the glass jars and screw-top lids in the dishwasher and wash on a high-heat setting. Wipe the lids dry with a clean tea-towel making sure there is not a drop of water or moisture on them since this will lead to a fouling of the jam. Pop the glass jars into the oven at 150 degrees centigrade for about ten to fifteen minutes before bottling up the jam. The heat will not only sterilise the jars it will also ensure that not a drop of water is left on the glass. (Don’t be tempted to put the lids in the oven since the heat will melt the plastic lining on the lids.)
When the jam is ready fill the jam right up to the rim of the sterilised glass jar using a funnel. Put the lid on top and screw tightly. Turn the jar upside down immediately to create a sterilised vacuum. Leave to rest upside down until the jam has cooled.
For best results
Add lemon juice even if the fruit is high in pectin since the acid from the lemon, rather than the sugar, prevents the jam from spoiling once sealed. That all said most pectin sachets include citric acid which also helps prevent spoilage.
Add the lemon juice after the fruit has been crushed or cut, certainly before the sugar is added. This helps to retain natural colours whilst helping to draw out what pectin is naturally present in the fruit.
Mix the sugar, powdered pectin and citric acid together on a baking tray. This will prevent the pectin from clumping when added to the mixture.
If you want you can heat the sugar in the oven before adding. This will result in the sugar melting quicker than would otherwise be the case. The longer the sugar has to cook the more chance there is of caramalisation which will dull the final colour of the jam.
Once the jam reaches a rolling boil leave it to bubble away for one minute before taking off the heat. The jam will remain liquid but will begin to set as it cools down.
This history of jam
For the modern reader home-made jams may represents the epitome of traditional cooking, yet its wide-spread use, as opposed to elitist use is a relatively modern phenomenon. Our grand-parents and possibly our great-grandparents would almost certainly have either made jams or bought them, our ancestors did not – unless that is to say, they were royalty or nobility. In a pre-industrialised era few would have had the access to sugar since it was an expensive, exotic ingredient from the orient and honey was too scarce.
In Britain one of the earliest recipe books on preserving fruit was written in 1718 by one Mrs Earles who was “Confectioner to her late Majesty, Queen Ann.” In fact Mrs Earles’ 1718 cherry jam recipe for the Royal Court would even make an industrial cook blush – three pounds of sugar to one pound of fruit!
The reality is that the vast majority of the population and the less illustrious everyday cook in 1718 would have relied on fermentation to preserve fresh fruit produce in the form of alcoholic beverages (cider, fruit Geneva’s) or sweet chutneys. Alternatively, where possible, they would have tried to dry the fruit in order to prevent the free moisture from spoiling them.
In Europe, jam making only really took off in the nineteenth century when sugar could be processed from sugar beets and the trade in sugar no longer depended upon sugar canes grown in the far-off West Indies.