October 27, 2012

Get Jamming!

Get Jamming!

I’ve always wanted to make my own jams, preserves, relishes, chutneys and pickles. But I’ve always thought they were quite difficult and time consuming to make. After looking into it more and learning about the do’s and don’ts I’ve actually realised it really isn’t!

In fact, it’s quite the opposite and its really simple and can be quite rewarding. Not only do you get to use up fruit and vegetables that you have a stock of, which hopefully will be in season produce which means it will have less food miles and be cheaper so buying in bulk doesn’t empty your wallet, but they usually last ages and so you can enjoy them for months and months to come.

When I was reading up on the essentials of jam making I started wondering - What is the difference between a jam and a preserve? And what defines a pickle? Can you pretty much preserve any fruit and veg – will it really last and be as good as they say? The answers to these questions are mixed and equally confusing, but pretty much a jam is when the fruit has been cooked down and broken up, and a preserve is when the texture is rather chunky. A pickle refers to something that is preserved in vinegar and usually raw. And lastly – Yes you can pretty much preserve anything. So I thought great! What do I need to start jamming!

There are plenty of jam kits on the net which after much research and then having those jaw dropping moments thinking ‘How much?!’ I learnt you can pretty much do without it. Now if you decide to give up your day job and become a jam maker full time you may want to invest in these kits, but if you are only going to make them now and again then you can just use kitchen equipment you already have.

You can use a heavy based casserole pan for your jam pan. It will look huge compared to how much you will fill it, but it’s better to have a bigger one as the jam will cook better and more evenly. A ladle is perfect for filling, and a funnel is pretty good if you think your ladle is the wrong size as your burning hot jam will go everywhere! And trust me when I say that stuff is stickier than you can imagine! Kilner jars or old screw top jars are great for putting your jam into, but make sure you sterilise them before filling to keep away the nasties that will spoil all your hard work. Apart from that you don’t really need anything else.

You will notice that some jams/preserves or whatever you want to call them are more fluid than others. This is usually due to pectin which is the natural thickener in fruits and veg. Some have more than others and so may require an addition of liquid or powdered pectin. I struggled to find this in the supermarket and bought some online. You can make some yourself with lemon shells, but I knew I would never save up enough of them to do this so went ahead and bought some.

Some take longer than others to make, and the length of time they last is not universal. Because I like to cook seasonally if I can I’m always on the look out for what’s new and so bought a whole bunch of the last of season figs. They were lovely and plump and more importantly, they were mostly unblemished. Wonderfully autumnal beetroot is flooding the markets at the moment and so I stocked up on some of those too.

You can add spices and citrus as you wish. As you know I love these so I have added some background flavour using some of my favourites.

So if you fancy stocking up on homemade preserves for Xmas then have a go at my new recipes:

Figgy Jam

Beetroot, Orange & Ginger Chutney

Caramelised Onion, Balsamic & Fig Chutney

And keep checking back in the recipes section as I think I’ve caught the jamming bug. I hope my friends don’t mind chutneys for Xmas!

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