Jammin’ with Mariana

I love making jams and marmalades. For me it’s the perfect way to preserve the season. Vanilla Plum Jam- a gentle reminder of hot summer days in a jar, when eaten in the cool of winter. Tarty Citrus Marmalade- Autumn love and enjoyed every week of the year on my sourdough toast.

I started making jam and marmalades back when I was a teenager. I’d watched my mum do it countless times and just learnt by watching. A couple of decades on and I still happily make my preserves although I’m not particularly good at why I do certain things, I just do.

For this reason I thought I would do a Q and A on jam making, with the ever knowledgable Mariana from Thru My Kitchen Window. Mariana’s pantry is the kind of pantry I would quite happily raid any night of the week. Those darkened shelves, I know would be lined full of beautifully made preserves. Made with a basket full of love and knowledge, (which is a pretty awesome combination when it comes to cooking.)

how to make jam-cityhippyfarmgirl

Jammin’ with Mariana @ Thru My Kitchen Window

Q: What is the best kind of fruit to jam and do I use over ripe, or under ripe fruit?

A: Fruits that grow successfully or are native to the area where you live.  Apples would be an exception; for example I live in SE Qld and I source my apples at the local farmers market. The apple growers are from Stanthorpe (over two hundred kms away) and I know the apples were picked up to three days before market. Under ripe or close to just being ripe are the best fruit to use in jamming.

mulberries

Q: What is pectin, why do I need it and which fruit has the most? Can I use that packet stuff that says Jam Setter?

A: Pectin can be a hard thing to understand until you’ve worked with quite a number of fruits; at least it was for me. I would describe pectin as a ‘gummy-like substance’ that oozes from the fruit while it’s simmering. Adding lemon juice to simmering fruit helps to further release the pectin. Pectin levels are different in every fruit, eg; apples are high; strawberries are low.  Preserve books generally contain information about the pectin levels in most fruits; consult them or the net and use as a guide to help you achieve the best setting. It’s worth noting that once you add the sugar to the fruit you are no longer enabling the pectin to release; so do not add sugar until you’re happy with the softness or firmness of the fruit. You may think the rind in your marmalade is very soft, but once the sugar is added it actually assists in toughening the skin, so don’t be afraid to cook down fruit with rind, unless of course you like a firm rind.  The sugar will cook with the available pectin to form a gel or set; you may need to persist a few times till you get the setting right. Don’t give up, it’s all learning.

I’ve made and used my own liquid pectin stock. It’s very good; but some of the gels have been too firm so in future I’d only use it with poorer pectin fruits if at all.

I don’t use packet jam setter so I can’t comment on that one.  I’ve heard that these setting agents can reduce the intensity of the flavour in the fruit. However if you’re new to jam-making then anything that will help to boost your confidence in setting the jam can’t be such a bad thing.

how to make jam- cityhippyfarmgirl

Q. How long do I cook it for? Is timing the same for every fruit or does it vary?

A. Cooking times for jams all vary, for example strawberry jam could take 5mins to simmer and another 5 or 10mins for setting, whilst for strawberry and apple jam, simmering could take 20mins till the apples are soft and up to another 20mins till it jells. It’s all approximate unfortunately as so many factors depend on the condition of the fruit. For instance if you use overripe strawberries you’ll most likely end up with a strawberry sauce with very little chance of setting. Unblemished, just-ripe strawberries will in the same cooking time will give you a much better jam result.

jam

Q.What’s the saucer test, and how do I know when it’s ready? Also, I’ve heard about jam getting wrinkly, what does that mean?

A. I used to do the saucer test. Basically it’s to test how well the jam is jelling. Place a teaspoon of the jam onto a chilled saucer that’s been in the fridge.  Allow a couple of minutes to cool. Then with your finger gently push the jam from one side to see if it ‘wrinkles’. If it does then your jam has reached setting point; cease any further cooking. If it doesn’t wrinkle then presumably it needs more cooking.

These days I use my wooden spoon to determine the setting of my jam, jelly or marmalade.  Dip the spoon into the centre of the saucepan and slowly lift the spoon well above the pot. Tilt and watch how the liquid drips back into the mixture. If it runs off quickly, then keep cooking.  When a setting point is reached, the jam should fall off the spoon in small clumpy teardrops . I much prefer using this method than the saucer test but it does take practise to recognise the signs.

blueberries

Q.Skimming scum off the top doesn’t sound very pleasant, do I need to do that?

A. Yes. It’s unavoidable that some impurities will rise to the top as it should. This is a good thing.  Take a metal spoon and skim away from the sides. Don’t attempt to skim from the centre of the pot; you’ll scald yourself.  With some fruits there’ll be lots of scum while hardly any with others. Generally cooking the whole fruit albeit chopped, will produce greater scum. This is usually the case for jelly-making, and even more important to remove because jellies can be quite transparent and therefore the clarity depends on how well you skim the scum away during cooking.

Q. How to sterilise your jars and do I really need to? There seem to be so many different methods to do this?

A. Consult ‘canning books’ or simply ‘google’ to see recommendations on how best to sterilize. I always wash the jars and lids together in hot soapy water; rinse in boiling water, sit on a rack that’s also been placed in hot water.  Arrange the jars on a baking tray bottom side down and place into a preheated conventional oven at about 80degrees; leave while the jam is cooking. Don’t put the lids in the oven till five minutes before the jam is ready. Your jars and lids should be quite ‘hottish’ just before filling. Once you’ve filled your jars, seal immediately. Place the jars side by side in a high sided tin or tray.  Cover with a tea towel to help cool down slowly.  I’ve yet to encounter a problem doing it this way. I read that filled jars should be reboiled for ten minutes, but I find it all so tedious and an extra step in what can already be quite an arduous task.

jamjars

Q. How long does the jam keep for?

A.The greater the sugar content the longer the keeping time. If you use one cup sugar to one cup of fruit then easily a year and even up to two years. You may get some discolouration of the jam as it tends to darken a little the older it is. These days I prefer to use a ratio of between sixty or seventy five percent sugar to the fruit. In this case it’s best to use the jam between six months and up to a year. At least that’s my experience.

citrus

Q. If I have never made jam before, what might be an easy fruit to start with?

A.Choose a fruit that’s in season, one with reasonable pectin levels.  Add some Granny Smith Apples – this will improve your chances for a really good set – and help your confidence for the next jam-making session.  If you want to be really adventurous, go for making marmalade. You’ll have extra work with finely shredding rind, but your chances for a good setting will be excellent as citrus have high levels of pectin.

Q. And lastly, what’s your favourite jam?

A. I love a really good orange marmalade; it’s hard to beat.  However; dabbling in lilly pillies and jaboticaba fruit the last couple of years has been thrilling and has produced some wonderful discoveries.  And the mulberry season this year was one of the best ever. The mulberry and lime jelly I made was so intense in flavour it was unbelievable. My gifts to people turned into a nightmare! They were begging me to buy more of the stuff, so I’ll have to say mulberry jelly is my favourite. One thing it did confirm, there’s nothing quite like the taste of a home-made preserve.

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A huge thank you to the lovely Mariana for taking the time to do this and if anyone has any other questions that haven’t been covered here, please do ask in the comments. Hopefully I, Mariana, or someone else can jump in and answer. Jam making isn’t scary or complicated, it’s following some general rules and then you are away, ready to preserve the season. 

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Blueberry Jam

Blueberry Jam

500gms blueberries

250mls water

bring it to a simmer

now slowly add

500gms sugar

1/2 lime juice

stir

a slow rolling boil until the jam thickens and passes the saucer test.

 

So what is the saucer test? Grab a small saucer and pop it in to the freezer while your jam is cooking. If you keep casting your eyes over the cooking jam, you will start to see the consistency changing, it will start to look like a thicker rolling boil. If you think it has started to thicken, get the cold saucer out of the freezer and dollop a small spoonful of jam on to it. Swirl it round a bit, and (hopefully) you will see that it has thickened up. Try running a finger through it. If it’s ready it will wrinkle a little and feel thicker.

summer loving jam


I don’t know if this was the best name for the jam. It’s been such an odd summer. Bakingly hot this week, a huge cyclone hitting the country and catastrophic flooding in recent weeks. The middle of the night being woken by the smell of a fire, it’s certainly been an odd summer. Fruit and vegetable prices are set to increase due to the natural disasters effecting so many farmers, so I actually feel kind of lucky to be able to even make this jam. To be in a position to cook up and store some of summers beautiful stone fruit offerings. Eaten mindfully and enjoying every spoonful that’s for sure.

Jam really is so easy to make. It’s been said countless times before, but it really is such a great way to preserve the season.

Equal parts sugar to fruit, (generally) if needed some pectin of some sort. Cook it up until it thickens and hey presto, done.

Summer Loving Jam

plums- two kinds

peaches

nectarines

juice of one lemon

 

ratio

1 kilo fruit

1 kilo sugar

500mls water

I just roughly chopped the fruit and then gently with a hand held mixer, blitzed any big lumps. If you don’t have that, cut it finer, (or enjoy your lumps.)

Cooking at a rolling ball, until cold saucer test stage. In to sterilised jars and store.

Strawberry and Black Pepper Jam Tarts

The queen of Hearts she made some tarts

All on a summers day

The knave of Hearts he stole those tarts

And took them clean away.

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The humble jam tart is always an easy one to whip up for when people come over, an easy little dessert, or an afternoon treat. If you have some pastry already in your freezer it makes it even easier.

First roll out your pastry and cut out to your desired shape. (Really you can use what ever you have at hand. A big long tray can also look great. Just cut the pieces to suit then.) For a pastry recipe, you also try here.

Grease tray, and place strips of baking paper down. All this does is makes it super easy to flip out when they are cooked. Rather than baking blind, I pricked the pastry with a fork and baked until golden at 180C. When the pastry shells are cooled, you can add ANY jam you want. It all tastes good. For these little numbers. I melted a little dark chocolate and then drizzled a small amount on the inside of the shell. This just gives a thin layer of chocolate underneath the jam mixture. Then spooned a strawberry jam mixed with freshly ground pepper. The pepper isn’t overwhelming just gives a gentle hint of… ooohh, whats that?

The King of Hearts called for the tarts

And beat the Knave full sore

The Knave of Hearts brought back the tarts

And vowed he’d steal no more!

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Capturing winter sun in a jar

Winter sun can be so uplifting to the spirits when its cold outside. A face tilted towards the sun through a glass window. Body warming against a sheltered brick wall. There are pockets of warmth in my apartment that are just perfect for capturing that winter sun.

Little Monkeys pillow, when he goes down for a day time nap. His pillow has been soaking up the morning warmth already for him to lay his head on. Makes me want to snuggle right down with him.

Coat stand, standing holding all of our jackets. When ever I go to put one on during the day, a little bit of winter wonder has been stored in there. Warming my back and a soft ahhh slipping from my mouth.

The dining table, just about time I usually eat some lunch, that soft winter sun is waiting for me. Sunny fingers out stretched, waiting to draw me in.

This mandarin marmalade drew me. Its sunny colour, and tang of sweet citrus, just begging for a little sourdough to accompany it.

Mandarin Marmalade

1.3 kilos skinned and segmented manderines

800mls water

Cooked up until soft (approx 1/2 an hour). Then wizzed up in a hand held mixer.

1 kilo sugar

1 large strip of lemon peel

Cooked up, and reduced until thickens. (Saucer test- put in freezer, then ladle a little jam on, if thickens and wrinkles then its ready.)

Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal.

* If you are not so keen on marmalade but like jam, this could be a good one. It doesn’t have the citrus tartness that normal marmalades do, due to their skins not being cooked up in the batch. The Monkeys loved this, and you know most kids don’t go for marmalade. It sits happily in between.

Plum Vanilla Jam

Yesterday i made the most amazing jam I think I have made in my jamy career. Heaven! You could eat a bowl full of it.

Plum Vanilla Jam. Sooo tasty. You know when you cook something and you are hoping that it will turn out and it’s all looking like it should be and then you go to taste it and it far exceeds your expectations?… well, it was one of those moments anyway. I was still excited about that batch when I went to bed last night!

My only trouble at the moment- not enough jars. I have abundance of fruit and not enough jars. I am on a jar recruitment drive at the moment so am hoping that I can get a few more from other people. As we don’t seem to go through that many glass jars, and I can’t see the point in buying them when people are tossing out perfectly good ones.

So what went in it?

Plums-    1.6k

Vanilla bean pod-    1

sugar-    1 kilo

lemon juice –   1 lemon

Well worth the effort, and it comes out this beautiful rich red colour.

(Present idea– cut a round piece of material to go over the top lid, attach with some cooking twine and tuck an antique/opshop teaspoon through the twine.)