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  • Writer's picturegfmeade7


One of my earliest culinary memories is watching my mother stirring big pots of homemade jam and marmalade on the stove, old pillow cases clipped to kitchen chairs as crab apple juice slowly dripped overnight into a basin and then baking glass jars in the oven to sterilize them. It all fascinated a future chef. Then to see them being sold at a country market or given to neighbours was a real delight. Boxes of fresh fruit would be mysteriously left at the front door. Blackberry picking was an autumn ritual.

People are not so keen now to make jam at home but it is a wonderful thing to do. I have siblings that do still make it now though and it is always a pleasure to see a tradition live on and enjoy eating it. Late summer and early autumn are the real times to get stuck into it with gardens and orchards producing their fruits and mostly too much to be eating fresh so it is a shame to see them go to waste.

A lot of people freeze the fruit to save it for later but this destroys some of that vital pectin for its thickening so it needs to be replaced when you are making it. It’s an old mantra that fruits for jam in order to retain maximum flavour should be picked when it is sunny and not when cold or damp. There was great skill in managing the pectin or naturally occurring acidic gelling agent levels of fruits in olden times by mixing and matching the low and high levels of pectin which forms part of their cell walls. Pectin is mass produced now mainly from citrus fruits but over runny jams still get made by the avid beginner.

The supermarkets will sell you jars of jam for a couple of Euros but it is just artificially coloured and flavoured jelly at best in my opinion. Real jam packs a powerful punchy flavour of the berry or fruit on the label and has just about enough of its natural jelly for it to be barely holding itself together, almost like a compote. Another name is preserve, conserve or confiture as the French call it. Whatever you call it man has been conserving food forever in order to have something to eat in the cold seasons.

Jam falls into that category along with pickling, salting, curing, drying, potting, with sweet and savoury relishes, chutneys, jellies, oils, vinegars and syrups. They have all being developed over millennia to make sure the larder was well stocked. Now the supermarket is our larder. There is a true culinary art in preserving fresh foods to last and remain tasty and safe to eat. I have worked in a couple of places that were very proud of their own in house jam making, especially when they have grown the fruit themselves.

Jam is one of the easiest to master and if you have never had a go then it is never too late. With high sugar content being the real key to it keeping it edible, jam will last a long time. If air gets in at it at all when out at room temperature then you might get a bit of mould on the surface but you can scrape if off and what is underneath is still perfectly safe. Recipe wise I prefer the old masters and the one I recommend is Mrs. Beeton’s legendary bible of cooking as the best for all things jammy. You will find hundreds online of course even with how to videos.

I always keep jam in the fridge regardless and my favourite would be plain old strawberry and I make sure I get the best I can, preferably from a farmer’s market stall or a premium commercial brand, either of which I am happy to pay the extra few Euros. I have seen firsthand the amount of work that artisan jam makers put into what they do like local jam maker Hilda Cullivan pictured here. It’s a true labour of love as much as a cottage industry. So next the time you see the jars piled high at a fair or farm shop make sure you stock up and keep what is a real tradition alive and licking.

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