As summer gallops full speed ahead, all of a sudden there is an abundance of hedgerow berries and orchards fruit, ripe for preserving. Over the years we have gathered a collection of hand written methods on splattered pages. We return to these tried and tested recipes time and again to make the most of this seasons treats. As gloriously filled baskets stuffed to the brim, make their way to the kitchen table, we are all set to spend as much time as we can beside the AGA, ensuring we have preserves for the breakfast table as well as a larder full of homemade gifts.
Our top tips for preserving:
Select the best fruit possible for your jams and conserves.
It can be tempting to use a glut of summer berries that have just passed their best for your conserves. Waste not, want not has always been our kitchen mantra and this is fine if you know that you are definitely going to be able to keep the jar in the ‘fridge and use it all up in the next couple of weeks. But in all honesty, soft and squidgy fruit will not have the same keeping qualities as a preserve that is made with the freshly picked berries and as the pectin levels will be lower so you will not be able to achieve a perfect set. There is also a risk of the fruit fermenting once it has been made into jam. In this case everything will have to be thrown away.
Better still make a compote, crumble, coulis or shake with the fruit and enjoy it straightaway rather than wasting effort and additional ingredients on something that will give you a disappointing result.
Invest in the best preserving equipment you can afford.
When you begin making preserves, most home kitchens will have adequate kit to begin with. However, once you are bombarded with the requests from family and friends for another jar of that, oh so delicious plum jam, you will need to treat yourself (or they can!) to some preserving equipment for give you even better results.
Depending on your type of stove, to begin with you will definitely need a Maslin pan, measuring jug thermometer, ladle, a set of scales, preserve jars and lids as well as labels. We also like to use a jam funnel, preserving spoon with a long handle. This is ideal to stir the sugar when it is first added. The handle saves you getting splashed from boiling sugar and it is important that every last granule of sugar is dissolved before you increase the heat to reach a setting point.
Always use cane sugar.
We believe this will give you a superior set and translucent gel with a beautiful shine. We don’t tend to use preserving or jam sugar but prefer white granulated cane sugar specifically for all types of fruit preserves. We have made jam with caster sugar when there was nothing else in the cupboard and this worked fine but the larger surface area of granulated ensures it dissolves rapidly, this in turn helps you achieve a faster set and doesn’t impair the colour of your jam. Always stir continually until all the sugar is dissolved. Then resist stirring whilst you obtain setting point.
Testing for pectin.
If you are a gardener as well as a cook, you will know that you enjoy the best jam making results if you preserve immediately after the fruit is picked. This is because the pectin content will be at its highest. Pectin will deteriorate the longer the fruit is stored. If you don’t have the space or inclination to grow fruit at home but would love to make your own jam, then find a ‘pick your own’ farm and plan enough time to visit and preserve in the same day.
If you are preserving fruit with a low pectin content then try adding lemon juice or pureed and sieved red currant pulp as these are both natural sources of pectin.
Alternatively pair the fruit with another that is known to be high in pectin, for example blackcurrants have a high pectin content. Try cooking these gently to soften their tough skins and then pair with low pectin strawberries to create a delicious summer berry jam .
It is also possible to buy commercial grade pectin online. This powdered form is added with the sugar and we would suggest it is well worth seeking out if, for example you want to make lots of strawberry jam.
When you begin making a jam recipe, place the weighed sugar in a heat proof bowl and gently warm this in your conventional stove set at a low heat or in the AGA simmering oven. This will help the sugar dissolve rapidly once it is added to the cooked fruit pulp. It also ensures that the core temperature is not dramatically impaired and setting point will be achieved quicker.
Pectin Test. If you are unsure whether a fruit has a high or low pectin content it is possible to check this by adding two teaspoons of juice from the fruit (cooked if necessary, to extract the juice) to six teaspoons of methylated spirit. If pectin is present this will form a gel.
Always buy new lids.
Recycling jars are a great step towards a more sustainable future. But don’t go to all of the effort to make jam and then re-use an old lid. This is because there is every chance that the seal inside the lid will no longer work and when you come to open your jar in three or four months, the surface will be covered in mould.
Always store your preserves in a cool, dark place that is free from damp. Try to label the jars as soon as they contents are cool enough for you to handle.
Don’t double the recipe!
This is probably the most common cause of a disappointing result. If you are working alongside a domestic stove and if you are new to preserving, we really advise that you don’t double up the recipe, even if you have a mountain of fruit to make into jam.
With a larger volume it will be difficult to reach a setting point so you will be boiling the fruit and sugar for a longer time. This will impair the colour of your jam and it is unlikely that you will achieve an adequate set as the hob on a conventional stove just wont be adequate to get the fruit and dissolved sugar to a high enough temperature.
Find a tried and tested recipe.
When you start making jam, always follow the proportions set out in a reputable recipe, the reason for this is, if the fruit has a high pectin content, then it is sometimes possible to add more sugar to a method. This will achieve a higher yield. Also it is important not to decrease the amount of sugar than stated as this acts as the preservative and the jam will not keep if the balance is incorrect. Once you become experienced, you will quickly learn how to develop your own combination of fruit and berries to create delicious preserves.
Remember: when you are making preserves, a recipe will not work if it doesn’t contain the correct balance of fruit, sugar, acid and pectin.
Testing for a set
We like to use the flake method but also have a fail safe of using a sugar thermometer as well. For most recipes you need to reach 104.5 C