A Berry Picking and Jam Making Afternoon

allotment berry pickingThis week a normal afternoon dog walk randomly developed into berry picking and making my own jam from scratch! I have never made jam before but found it to be surprisingly easy and made with ingredients that I already had in my baking cupboard.

This time of year is perfect for berry harvesting and I took full advantage of that while visiting my mum’s allotment and picked myself a generous amount of blackberries and raspberries. On my way home I stumbled upon a bush that I wrongly thought was full to bursting of blueberries. After discovering that my ‘blueberries’ had stones, a small amount of googling later led me to find that they were in fact sloe berries, a cousin of the humble blueberry. Sloe berries, although edible, are very bitter when eaten raw and are best used in jams or in sloe gin. So (ding-ding-ding light bulb moment!) I decided to make jam out of my berry haul for my jam-loving grandad. IMG_1071

I was pretty sure that jam was just sugar and fruit but after some research I found
that you also have to have some pectin present to ensure that the jam sets correctly. This is naturally present in some fruits but very lacking in others such as strawberries. I did not have any artificial pectin or any jam sugar (which has added pectin) but luckily blackberries and raspberries are naturally high in the substance so I took a chance and went ahead without any artificial pectin. While washing and preparing my berries I could not, after much squishing and squashing, work out how to remove the sloe berry stone without completely destroying the flesh. In the end, I abandoned the sloe berries and went ahead with the raspberries and blackberries, adding to my collection with strawberries and a small red apple instead.

I perused various web pages looking for a straightforward and simple jam recipe, but all of the versions that I came across gave slightly different advice and varying sugar to fruit ratios. Having 350g of fruit, I decided to go ahead with around 250g of caster sugar (I didn’t have enough granulated), which in hindsight may have been a tad too much due to the natural sweetness of the fruits that I had chosen. I also discovered that at this point I should have crushed my fruit – I thought that the fruit would naturally break down far more than it actually did – crushing the fruit helps the juices to escape and, in the case of the chopped apple pieces, stops the jam from having very large fruity chunks.jam making process

To start, I popped my fruit in a large saucepan and added the sugar on top, stirring to disperse it evenly throughout the berries. I also added a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice and a teaspoonful of vanilla essence (after gaining some inspiration from Jamie Oliver). Over a low heat, I watched as the juices escaped from the berries and dissolved the sugar. Stirring as little as possible, you have to wait while the juices heat and begin to bubble and then turn up the hob to a medium heat, holding the mixture at a boiling bubble for around 10 minutes. (This is how long I kept my jam at, it may be vastly different cooking times for other types of fruit. As the fruit separates it forms a ‘scum’ on the surface which, as far as I can tell, is not at all detrimental to the jam and should be left right until the end of the process to be skimmed off of the top.
Many different articles that I read said to keep the jam at the boil until it simmering the fruitreaches a certain temperature but, as I had no cooking thermometer to help me, I had to use the less technical method – the wrinkle test. When you begin to cook your fruit, place a couple of small saucers or bowls in the freezer to cool. When you think your jam may be ready, plop a teaspoon of it on the chilled plate and return to the freezer for 20-30 seconds to rapidly cool the mixture. If you can then push your finger through the jam without it rushing to fill the void (and it gives a slight wrinkle on the surface) then your jam is ready! Make sure to take your jam off of the heat while you test it in case it is ready – you don’t want to overcook. If your test is too runny then put the jam back on the heat for 2 minutes before trying again.

When your mixture is ready, transfer to your containers while it is still hot or it will begin to set to the pan – the runny hot jam will also help to fill any air pockets upon entering the jar. As I made my jam on a whim, I had no jam jars to store my new creation in so I improvised and used ramekins instead, which seem to have worked very well. My 350g of fruit filled two medium sized ramekins, or approx. one normal sized jam jar.

homemade jam

Overall, jam making was very messy, sticky and sweet but very fun and very fulfilling and I can’t wait to make a victoria sponge with my own home made jam! For now, I am just content with spreading it on some toast….NOM.

I would like to give some thanks and some credit to the various articles and websites that I used when piecing together the jam-making process. Some people that I found very helpful were; The High Heel Gourmet, Allotment & Gardens and BBC Good Food. Happy Jam Making!

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