Everything I Know About Making Jam.*

[*AKA ‘Some Of The Things That Viven Lloyd Has Taught Me.‘]

Lesson One: Jam is delicious. No need to spread it on anything more than a spoon

Before I begin today’s post, I suppose I should thrown in a minor disclaimer. Until last night, I knew virtually nothing about making jam. I’ve made lemon curd under supervision (as you regular Ogglers will know), but up until now the creation of jam has remained somewhat of a mystery to me.

Last night, however, all this changed. I was invited to a demo presented by Vivien Lloyd – a jam-making wizard, if ever there was one. With 25 years experience, and her rather swanky recipe book which has just been reissued for iPads, Vivien knocked up a batch of the stuff while we watched, making it look just as easy as buying a jar from the shops.

Funnily enough, that is also the main thing she taught us: making jam doesn’t have to be difficult. All you need is fruit, sugar (not even the special jam-making variety), water, jars, and a decent source of heat – even a microwave will do it if you’re hard-pressed for an oven.

You don’t even need a real hob!

Vivien herself produced a huge lot of Blackcurrant and Chilli Jam using nowt but a saucepan, scales, a portable stove and a long metal spoon (you can find the recipe for it here). As she stirred she answered our burning questions on doing the business ourselves. Here are a few of the highlights – so make sure you don’t start cooking until you’ve read them through.

Send me your work when you’re done, would you?

Goodness me, I do love a drop of the sweet stuff.

Things What I Learnt (because Vivien told me):

  • Should you happen to be a novice like me, don’t start by making Strawberry Jam. Strawberries are naturally low in pectin and as a result, jams that contain just strawbs and sugar can be rather tricky to set. Make things easier by adding something higher in pectin – like redcurrants
  • If you won’t be swayed from using strawberries, they’re best when they’re small and dry (so don’t go Pick-Your-Owning just after there’s been some rain)
  • Other pectin-rich fruits include blackcurrants, cooking apples, damsons, gooseberries and quinces
  • The easiest jam for a novice to make is raspberry
  • In case you didn’t know already, there happens to be a difference between jam and conserve: conserves use whole fruits, and are generally more runny
  • Gooseberry and Elderflower jam is DA BOMB (seriously, Ogglers – I had me a spoonful and almost dropped dead with delight). Don’t go through summer without it
  • Your average jam book will usually give you a 5kg yield. That’s obscene – unless you’re one of the Waltons. Cut the quantities and make your life much easier
  • NEVER allow anyone to distract you while you’re cooking. That way madness lies (and failure)
  • The longer you boil your jam, the more sugary it will be. Avoid crystallisation (and fermentation) with the ‘Flake Test’. This method of ensuring you don’t overcook things involves holding a spoon of your jam above the pan and seeing how the strands set as you let it drip back down. When your jam suspends itself rather than dropping it’s ready to pour into jars

Vivien demos the Flake Test – and shields her eyes from our dribbling mouths

  • Believe it or not, jam can be scummy. Not in the same way that an unwashed yob is scummy, but in the way that a skin will collect on its surface while it’s cooking (not unlike what happens when you make custard). For texture’s sake, skim this skin off (but don’t add butter, like some recipes say you should). Just like custard skin, this scum is edible. Gobble that scum. You’ll like it

Now I could go on, believe me. But far be it for me to eat in to your jam-making schedules. You see, Vivien also gave out some judging tips yesterday. I’m crossing my trotters it won’t be too long before I can put them to use…

Send your produce to the Hog House, folks.

I’ll be waiting.

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