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Jam & Chutney Making

January is Citrus Season and the perfect time to make Marmalades... and it's the only time you can buy the tart Seville Oranges which are ideal for Marmalade.

As Summer moves on and the allotment is producing more veg than you can eat, preserving is the way to go. Then as September and early October come around the trees and bushes are laden with fruit. You can go out and pick blackberries, sloes and elderberries in the hedgerows. Everywhere round here there are people selling bags of apples and plums from their trees for nothing. The only way to deal with the abundance, once you've gorged yourself on crumbles and puddings, is to make jam and chutney.

Not only does it fill me with a real sense of homeliness and make me feel like a grown up, it is also handy to give away come Christmas. True, others might well give you jam or chutney they have made, but this only means you have a lovely medley of things in your cupboard. Win win really. I've also included my mother's Marmalade recipe, which is exceedingly good.

Tips for Jam and Chutney Making

Some tips from the books I’ve consulted as well as tips from the mothership and my own experiences.

You will need: A preserving pan (will last a lifetime), jars and lids, wax paper discs. For jam, a sugar thermometer takes the guess work out of things.

Jars need to be sterilized to keep any unwanted bacteria out of the finished product. Make sure they are very clean and dry, then put the jars on a baking tray in a cold oven then turn the heat to 120c. Any hotter then you will crack the glass. Hot (but no longer boiling) jam or chutney should be poured into warm jars, again to stop them cracking in the heat of the preserve.

Put a wax disc on top of the jam/chutney, then screw on the lids while they are still hot. The hot air inside will contract, causing a vacuum. Sometimes there will be little bubbles in the preserve. Best advice I have seen is to give the jar a good shakes and turn it upside down while it’s still warm, but basically, it’s not a problem.

All fruit needs to be undamaged and, ideally, just under ripe.

Seems obvious, but check you have all you need for the recipe before you start. I have often been caught out by how much sugar and vinegar I need. Also don’t underestimate how much peeling, chopping and stirring time might be involved!

Ideally fruit should be just under ripe as it produces more pectin which helps the jam or chutney set.

Store in a cool dark place. Chutneys should have two months to mature and both jam and chutney should last at least 6 months to 2 years after that.

For Jam & Marmalade specifically:

There is debate as to whether preserving sugar or jam sugar is actually necessary. Preserving sugar just has larger crystals which dissolve slowly to inhibit burning. Jam sugar often includes pectin. I’d follow the recipe- I don’t yet have an opinion myself!
Sugar hardens fruit. Tough skinned fruit should be simmered before sugar is added, and fruit you want to keep its shape, like strawberries, should be dusted in sugar the night before to stop them disintegrating when you cook them.

Some fruits have more pectin (essential setting agent) than others. Often it is relative to the size of the seeds- eg. plums have more pectin that strawberries. Recipes often include lemon juice to introduce pectin.

Sugar should be dissolved completely before you bring jam to the boil to set- otherwise it might not set properly and could end up tasting overly sugary.

Don’t worry about scum forming as jam boils. One book suggests using a tablespoon of glycerine, but otherwise wait till it has finished cooking and scoop off any scum remaining.

To test for setting point without a thermometer, put a teaspoon full of jam on a cold saucer. When it is cool enough, push a finger into it, pushing a line through the jam. If the jam spills back to where it was, it needs longer. If the finger mark stays, it is at setting point.

If the jam doesn’t set after cooling, decant it back into a preserving pan and reboil it with the juice of 1 lemon. If mould has formed, scoop this off first!

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