Brambles in the hedges around the field up from my house are only just setting, hardly any are ripe yet. Things are late and scarce this year, due to cold spring or maybe COVID?
But since it’s the nicest jamming produce and it comes for free to boot, I’m determined to scout those hedges and pick enough to make at least a jar of bramble jelly.
If you have a garden or allotment and grow your own fruit, you’ll have other jamming opportunities. The rest of us have to look for bargains at the fruit and veg market or pick your own.
Strawberries are finished for the season but that’s a boring kind of jam. Try apricots and peaches. Cherries are also coming to an end so make sure you make a jar of cherry jam or – even better – some homemade glace cherries, they are dangerously good.
You could get some greengages, the cousins of plums, usually inconspicuous on a market stall, and make greengage jelly with chilli. And maybe some flash pickles whilst you’re in a preserving mode?
It really isn’t difficult to make your own preserves, jams and condiments and it is a lot of fun. I used to think it was only a viable endeavour when you had truckloads of produce from your own plot and enormous vats. I know better now and sometimes make a saucerful of blueberry jam from a punnet of berries a little past it.
Jam sugar, with added pectin, is the best to use for the jamming operation as it has just the right amount of pectin added. If you buy pectin in sachets and add it to ordinary sugar, you might be tempted to put too much in. Lemon juice helps jam set as well, and contrary to expectations, it’s the less ripe fruit that contains the most pectin. And if all else fails, just cook the jam a little longer.
How do we know when jam is ready to decant? It helps if you have a jam thermometer. 105C / 221F is the jam and jelly setting temperature. Though note that it takes a long time to go from 100C to 105C, so if you think it’s almost there and turn it off at 100C or 102C, it will be too runny.
The other method you can test the doneness by is to drop a blob of jam onto a plate that has been kept in the freezer for a while. Wait a couple of minutes and push it with your finger – it should be almost thick enough to scoop it up.
If you have any fruit still left, there are cakes to be baked. Blueberry muffins are next to no effort, and likewise the buttery raspberry cake. Upside down cherry cake is slightly more challenging, but only at the tricky moment of turning it out of the tin. And it’s gorgeous.
It is an entirely sweet post this week so you’d better stock up on sugar! Keep well and get jamming!