A guest post by Ed
With some trepidation, I went to a jam making masterclass with Vivien Lloyd, author of First Preserves; marmalades, jams, chutneys. In particular, I had a pot of my (very amateur) marmalade tucked into my bag, to take up Vivien’s offer to comment on my efforts. I didn’t quite get the “nicely presented” compliment of doom, but it was clear that Vivien and I had different views on how sweet marmalade should be. I like it quite bitter (but then I would say that, wouldn’t I….). What was interesting was the science of jam making, where the required levels of sugar actually have to be fairly accurate. Too low, and it won’t keep, too high and the sugar will crystallise out.
She was making a chilli and blackcurrant jam, infusing the blackcurrants as they cook with bruised chillies in a muslin bag, suspended in the saucepan of fruit. I did think that this was rather neat, as it does mean that you don’t end up with unwanted bits of chilli or seeds in the final jam. It’s a method that can be used with other flavours; as an example, she had brought along a pot of gooseberry and elderflower jam, where the elderflower flavours had been infused. It was, as you would expect, lovely; fruity and fresh.
We had a wide ranging jam-related conversation, covering (among other things) the difficulties of making strawberry jam, due to the low pectin levels in strawberries, so it helps to include some higher pectin fruit – redcurrants, or apples, for example. And for the best taste, dry strawberries not picked after a rainstorm are best. For beginner jam makers (like me), starting with strawberry jam is a bit like starting your climbing career with the north face of the Eiger; better to start with something easier like raspberries.
Other tips that emerged during our discussion included: the superiority of raw cane sugar to beet sugar, the advisability of making jam in small batches so that the set is reached quickly and the flavours are not cooked out of the fruit, and how Vivien, despite being so expert, still suffers from “set anxiety”.
One way of checking to see that you have enough pectin in your jam so that it will set is to mix a teaspoon of jam in a tablespoon of methylated spirits: if there is sufficient pectin, a blob will form. We discussed the various methods of testing for a set; I was interested to see a demonstration of the flake test, where you hold up a metal spoon of jam and see how it falls from the spoon. When it’s ready, the last drop will leave a flat flake hanging from the spoon. . Not really having had the confidence to try it before, I’m sure that I’m now ready to give it a go.
For those wishing to give it a go, there’s plenty of fresh fruit in season, and a copy of Vivien’s book is the perfect starting point.
Thank you for the invitation to the class, and for Helly’s delightful blogging buddies for their welcome.