Friday, 31 July 2009

Strawberry Jam - Why You Should Stick To Just One Recipe

Almost as soon as we got home from the PYO farm, it became obvious that we had way too much fruit, and unless we wanted to eat strawberries and cream at every meal for the next week, there was no way we would get through all of it. The cashier in the farm shop had asked if we planned to make jam, so on the way home we'd picked up some jam sugar just in case the mood took us.

The recipe on the back of the jam sugar packet said boil the jam for 4 minutes. The recipe in Leith's Bible said it could take up to 30 minutes for the jam to set, as did a recipe on BBC food. I also had a sugar thermometer with a handy "jam" marking on it. I've seen plenty of jars of homemade jam that are too runny, and have to be poured, but I couldn't imagine what jam that was too hard would be like. I decided to boil the jam until the sugar thermometer was satisfied. I also chucked in some vanilla seeds and a squeeze of lemon juice for fun.

As I am greedy and curious, it was only a couple of hours later when I broke in to the first jar. Instead of spreadable jam, I had some kind of fruit toffee. It was like a giant wine gum in a jar. I managed to chip a lump out of it, and it tasted fine. The only problem was the texture.

Strawberry Jam

After googling various phrases about hard jam, I discovered what had gone wrong. The "up to 30 minutes" recipes were using ordinary sugar, but the jam sugar I'd used had added pectin. This had caused the jam to set quicker and at a lower temperature than relying on the pectin in the fruit alone. The lemon juice had also bumped up the pectin levels. Luckily, I also found that melting the jam down and adding in over-ripe fruit would probably give the jam a slightly better consistency.

A few nights later, when trying to get rid of the last few strawberries, I put the two jars of jam I'd made in a saucepan of cold water, which I slowly warmed up. In another pan, I mashed up the remaining fresh strawberries with a splash of water. Once the jam was warm enough to be stirrable (this took some time) I added in the mashed strawberries and their juice, and mixed it in to the existing jam as best I could.

I left the jars overnight, and consoled myself that a jar of strawberry toffee was not the worst thing that could have happened. The next morning I made toast while staring at the jars of jam with apprehension. Opening the jar gave no clues, and the jam still looked firm. As I dipped the knife in, I knew the fix had worked. The jam was spreadable! Success!

Jam on a petit pain

I've been eating the jam all week, just on bread or crackers, sometimes with butter and sometimes without. I've even substituted jam and bread for dinner, in a move reminiscent of my grandmother. When my mother would tell her to eat a proper dinner, she'd reply that jam and smoking were the only pleasures left in life at her age. I haven't started smoking though.

I wouldn't say this jam is life changing, but it is very fruity, with the right balance of sweetness and tartness. The vanilla adds a little something, but the flavour is not obvious. For a first foray in to the jam-making world, I'm pretty happy. I've also learnt my lesson about not trying to combine 3 different recipes when I have no idea what I'm doing!


Nora said...

Wow, that's a jam journey! I've had issues myself recently about trying to combine more than one recipe with rather unimpressive results - but at least you always learn something! And as I've had my eye on our local PYO's produce with a vague idea of making jam, it's good to get the benefit of your experience. :D