13 Aug

After extended empirical study, I have determined that this recession has been very good for food. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities in more traditional careers, many people my age have turned to DIY food as an alternative option. You only have to walk around my neighborhood to see the results: Broadway Market on a Saturday is full of people making their own ice lollies (popsicles for my fellow Yanks) and hot chocolate mixes, and down the road from me is a bakery run by escaped academics which makes some of the best bread I’ve ever had.

Those of you awaiting my announcement that I’m about to start my own business will be disappointed for the moment. But I do find all of this foodie creativity really inspiring, and this past weekend I scratched the itch by making jam.

A crimson sea, or blackberry jam in progress.

Now, you’re probably wondering why anyone would bother standing over a hot stove cooking fruit and sugar when I could just walk around the corner and buy a really nice jar of conserve instead? Well, partially because the process is fun, especially when you do it with friends. Though you might end up sprawled out on the couch afterwards from all the sugar you’ve consumed.

Before the crash.

Also, homemade jam reaches levels of deliciousness of which store-bought stuff can only dream, especially when you’ve got fruit at its peak. Observe the below:

Blackberry on the left, strawberry on the right.

I mean, would you look at the color of that blackberry jam! That stuff is crimson. And the taste: sweet and rich, but with enough tanginess to keep you wanting more. Don’t get me wrong – blackberry jam from the store is perfectly nice, but this stuff is in another league entirely.

If I’ve convinced you and you want to start making your own jam, the best guide is the River Cottage Handbook on Preserves by Pam Corbin. All the recipes work exactly as they’re written, but she also gives plenty of information about technique so that you can wing it if you are so inclined.

Speaking of winging it, the proportions I tried made a jam that was very thick (though still fine for spreading). If you like a runnier jam, I’d suggest replacing 400g/14.5oz of the jam sugar with regular granulated sugar, and also performing the set test after only a minute or two at the rolling boil.


Berko Blackberry Jam (thanks to Sophie G for the name, and for hosting our jam-making afternoon)

Makes 3 454g/1lb jars

1kg/2.2lbs blackberries
1.15kg/2.5lbs jam sugar
120ml/ 0.5 cup fresh lemon juice

1. Rinse your berries, then in a big bowl thoroughly crush them to a pulp using a potato masher.

2. Using a spoon with a flat-ish bottom, push the blackberry pulp through a fine sieve into your jam pan. It’s best to do this in 3-4 goes, scraping the remaining seeds out of the sieve each time. (This may seem like a real faff, but if you leave the seeds in, the jam will be crunchier than a hippie eating granola.)

3. Put the jam pan over low heat on the hob until the blackberry puree comes to a gentle simmer. Add the jam sugar, and stir it into the blackberries until it dissolves completely.

4. Add the lemon juice, then whack the heat up to high and bring the mixture up to a rolling boil.

5. Leave to boil for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and do the set test.*

6. Pour into sterilised jars, then put the lids on and leave to cool.

*Methods vary wildly for how to test when your jam is set. The best method I have found is the following:

1. When you’re starting to make your jam, put 3-4 saucers in the freezer to get really good and cold.

2.Once you’ve got your jam to a rolling boil and kept it there for 5 minutes, or however long your recipe suggests, grab one of the cold saucers, plop a little jam on it, then turn the heat off under the pan.

3. Stick the plate back in the freezer, count to 60, then take it out again. When you push it with your finger, it should form little bumps/crinkles.

4. If it doesn’t, crinkle put the plate aside, whack the heat back up to high under the jam, count to 60, then repeat with another cold saucer.

2 Responses to “DIY Jam”

  1. Lynne Hodgman August 13, 2012 at 6:10 PM #

    When I was growing up in small-town New Hampshire (yeah, NEW Hampshire in the States), we made peach jam from the single tree in our yard that produced wonderful fruit — like 100 pounds of it! — every other year. This was at the peak of a NH summer, August, temperature in the 90s, no air conditioning. We canned a dozen or two quarts of halved peaches and a few dozen 8-oz. jars of jam. I both loved and hated the process. Hot and steamy and took all day. When we got a dishwasher, at least we just ran it with the jars and weren’t boiling jars on the stove top for the “sterilization.” We melted paraffin (dangerous!) to seal the jars during the early years of this ritual.
    The fruit and the jam were both absolutely heavenly and no commercial product could compare!
    So, questions:
    1. What is jam sugar (super-fine?)
    2. I was taught jam had pieces of fruit in it and jelly was smooth. Or are there chunky jams, smooth jams, and jelly that has more pectin in it (added as an ingredient) to stiffen the mix? Now I have confused myself!

    • Tom August 13, 2012 at 7:34 PM #

      I think jelly means it was made from juice, rather than fruit. But they’re all the same really.

      Jam sugar is just normal sugar with pectin crystals mixed in to make life easier.

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