Thursday, July 12, 2012

Zen and the Art of Jam Making

I love making jam. Not entirely sure what the attraction is - perhaps it is the alchemy - a mess of raw fruit turns into a glowing rich jelly with the addition of sugar. Perhaps it is the row of jars in the pantry which assures my primeval self that we will get through the Winter. Whatever it is, I make a LOT of jam. No-one in my family ever made it, and I had never seen the process until I helped my mother-in-law one year. She was a good country housewife, and ordered cases of apricots every Summer which she made into dozens of jars of jam to last the whole year.

I made my first jam when The Boy was a baby, from peaches from our peach tree in the backyard of our first little house. Since then I have made jam every year from everything I can lay my hands on, but I have never bought fruit to make jam, as that seems counterproductive. The reason for jam is to use an overwhelming glut of fruit. The only cost should be the sugar. I start in December with the tiny yellow cherry plums from the backyard tree, and redcurrants from the front fence. I turn both of them into clear jellies, because the cherry plums are too small to stone. In January there are apricots, from over the washing line, February plums from all the people who beg you to take their plums away... March is blackberries from various undisclosed locations, plus pears, and apples, in April my dear friend calls me to say her figs are ripe, and I go and 'help' her use them up, because fig jam is so divine. May is rhubarb, and June and July the lemons... where I am up to now. Then I'll have a break to eat all this largesse before December rolls around again.

I have never made marmalade before, because I don't like it, but The Man is partial to marmalade on toast, and always buys whatever is cheapest at the supermarket, from somewhere outrageously far away and unlikely, like Albania or Poland, which don't strike me as places where an abundance of citrus would grow, so altogether a suspect product. Hence the lemon marmalade experiment. Last night as I spent one and a half hours slicing lemon rind and depipping lemon flesh I was really hoping it would turn out well. It is getting towards jelling as I write this morning. Such a sensible time of year to make jam, cold and raining outside, warm and smelling sweetly of lemons inside.

I don't really have any useful jam-making tips. It really is very easy if you follow a recipe, it's just a matter of being brave and jumping in. I wash out the jars as soon as I've put the jam on to boil, then scald the sink with boiling water, stand the jars in it and fill them and the lids with boiling water. Just as the jam jells I empty and refill them with the boiling water to make sure they are good and hot when filled. I believe you can buy a jam funnel, which is a huge help when ladling boiling hot jam into jars - I make one by cutting down a two litre milk bottle with the bread knife, then turn it upside down. It's just the right size to sit in the mouth of most jars while manhandling the soup ladle. The whole process is much simpler if you wait till the children have gone off to school....


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I am mortified to relate, that after waxing poetic above about the joys of jam making, the pot boiled all over the stove and I spent half an hour cleaning jam out of the stove elements. The moral of this story is, be very zen about jam. When you are making jam, just make the jam, do not write about it as well. I have a very clean stove now. Most of the jam did actually stay in the pot, and I have five jars of absolutely divine marmalade. I like it! The Man likes it! Even the children liked it on their afternoon tea pikelets. When the memories fade I will make it again. Here is the recipe. I added a whole bunch of lemon juice ice cubes from the freezer, and so then I had to add extra sugar as well. I can't help myself, recipes just change of their own volition when I cook them...

Since this morning's trials I have had a terrible cooking day. I was rolling out the dough for the scones this evening when I remembered I had forgotten the baking powder. Then I broke the pepper grinder into the soup. Then I absent mindedly ladled the soup onto a side plate instead of into a soup bowl. Luckily it was very thick soup.  I think I will be going to bed now...
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