Sunday, May 8, 2011

Jam Session

When I was, I think, about seven or eight a nurse came to school to instill some nutritional wisdom in us small mid-eighties Irish kideens. What I took away from her visit was that jam and tea are bad for you, so I diligently trotted home and told my parents that I would be having neither from thereonin, thank you very much. To this day I am mystified as to the allure of tea, not to mention the assumption that every living person drinks it, and sure what else would you have with your fry up/when you visit someone's house/when your head is done in. People just plonk it down on the table in front of you, and I think that it's only recently that my own family have stopped asking me if they'll put my name in the pot. Jam, however, I have become very happily reacquainted with, particularly since my exercise habits have really ratcheted up my sugar cravings. Since I began making my own bread I take particular pride and pleasure in having a slab of hot toast covered in lumps of rough-n-ready homemade jam or marmalade along with a big pot of coffee of a morning. I have hazy memories of my mam making jam (oooo, sounds like a Dr Seuss book!) when we were small. We had lots of fruit growing in our garden, and as far as I can remember gooseberries and blackcurrants were the most frequent visitors to the ginormous jam saucepan that wasn't used for anything else and went into hiding in the back kitchen when it wasn't jam season. I have similarly hazy memories of a particular type of jam sugar that was a key part of proceedings, but for the life of me I can't remember the name of the brand; it came in a blue tin and the name was written in curly, swirly writing, and I think that it began with a G...anyone want to help me out on this?! Argh, not only is it only going to drive me bananas, now I want one of those old tins to plant herbs in. Why don't I distract myself by telling you about my grapefruit, orange and lemon marmalade.

First step is to squeeze the juicy bejaysus out of one grapefruit, an orange and two lemons. Super satisfying with my Phillipe Starck Alessi citrus juicer. In such quantities and in a large bowl it's easier than usual to pick out the pips. Marmalade is lovely and cheap to make - I think I got about six jars out of this batch, and all I had to buy was a bag of sugar and those four fruits. I think that may even be less than the cost of one jar of marmalade, yet far far tastier than anything you would buy in a shop.

Scooping out the membrane is pretty satisfying, especially when you get hold of a good strong white bit and just peel it all out in one big strip. 

It's when the peel gets chopped up in strips that you start to marvel at how this simple process can end up in something that you spread on toast; like, would you just munch away on a bit of peel after you've eaten your orange? Rotten. But then you just do a bit of soaking and cooking and all that jazz and ta dah - it's edible! I consulted Darina for my recipe, and I must admit that I got a little confused when she said to slice the rind across rather than lengthways - what - huh - what's the difference?! How does it make a difference? Enlightenment would be greatly appreciated.

The membrane and pips go into some muslin cloth, and I think that this makes the prettiest sight, between the colours and the textures - it's like a mood board for a summery dress.

So - the rind and juices and pips and membrane have a good old overnight soak for themselves. I didn't have a pot big enough so instead of soaking it all in 3 pints water, I soaked them in 1.5 pints and added the rest when I was cooking it in the pot the next day. I just didn't think that soaking it all in a big steel saucepan would do a whole lot for the flavour - random theory or might there be a modicum of correctness in this?

And then the next day it all kicks off with a good two hour spell simmering on the hob. The pan stays covered for the first half hour and then the lid comes off for the rest, the desired result being that the liquid is reduced by between a half and a third and the peel is nice and soft. 

Much fuss is made about serious sterilisation of your jampots-to-be. I scalded like there was no tomorrow. Could you imagine making someone ill after proudly bestowing your marmalade-making efforts on them? The mortification. Spot the manuka honey from Aldi pots by the way, I fairly go through it.

It's when the sugar goes in that the exciting stuff starts to happen. Darina recommends heating it up in the oven to help it dissolve - so, 3lb sugar in the oven at 180 degrees for about ten minutes. It goes in at a fairly low simmer to give it a good chance to dissolve - if it doesn't melt nicely into the juicy fruity concoction then you'll end up with grainy, gritty marmalade. Of course if this actually happened I would probably just nonchalantly say that I love that whole homemade vibe to my food anyhow. It comes up to the boil once the sugar has dissolved and stays there for eight to ten minutes until it reaches setting point. You need to be super vigilant at this point: stir, stir, stir - burnt marmalade welded to the bottom of our saucepan would be pretty hideous - bye bye saucepan and hello rotten smell, I would say. You will also want to have some plates about the place to pop out spoons of marmalade at regular intervals and see how it is setting. Plop a bit on a plate, give it a few seconds and tip the plate to see how it runs - you'll know yourself by the look of it.

This little bag of delights has done its duty after two hours, by the way, and can come out right before the sugar goes in. 

Three little pots that almost look as though they're busting with pride - well I was just looking at them, anyhow!

Um, so you know the way this looks really pretty? Yeah, well it might be beautiful on the outside, but on the inside it's rock solid. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to roadtest it myself before giving it as presents to two friends. I'd love to say that my very first foray into marmalade making was an unmitigated triumph, but it had more, to quote one of the recipients of my efforts, spoon-bending properties than is desirable in something one spreads on toast. I actually managed to soften up my own by placing the jar in a bowl of boiling water so that it became somewhat more spreadable. Thanks to my extremely non-wasteful mother for that one, sometimes I think that she should set up her own domestic helpline. 

In pursuit of something that didn't require quite so much waiting, I found a quick and simple recipe for blueberry jam in a Rachel Allen book. I do have to say that I felt a little guilty making these virtuous and deliciously fresh blueberries into smooshy, sugary jam. That fresh pop of fruityness was to be sacrificed in favour of thick syrupy sweetness. 

Such a speedy cinch of a thing to make: 375g blueberries go into a pot with 30ml water, come to the boil, get mashed up with a potato masher, and then in goes 300g sugar and 3 tbsp lemon juice. They boil away for five minutes and then the testing ritual begins. 

Check that out for a raging inferno of jam-to-be.

It's always nice to know that you're making progress, and on this occasion I had more success with ensuring it was all set properly. It was a tad more, em, spreadable, than is strictly necessary, but managed not to slide off toast, nonetheless - plus it makes a great porridge topping at that texture.

By far the sweetest of my forays into jam-making was my strawberry jam; I could practically hear my teeth crying as I ate it. I ignored the shrill sound of their pain as my enamel disintegrated, of course, and happily slapped lumps of it on fresh-from-the-oven bread.

Seriously, the amount of sugar that goes into jam, in general, makes me gulp in horror. Does it stop me eating it though? Not a frickin chance, thanks. I'll scrub the bejaysus out of my teeth and run ten miles a day and let this be my reward. I like to think that the fact that I don't really drink soft drinks or juices means I can allow myself little sugary indulgences from alternative sources.

A total success, and, again, another great topping for porridge. Super sweet though - I think that strawberries lack the slight tang of blueberries and raspberries and, of course, the sharp acid of the citrus fruit, and the in-your-face sweetness of the fruit means that it's just a little de trop in jam form. 

On bread fresh from the oven though...mmmmmmmmm.............................................

Of all the jang that passed through my kitchen pots, I think that raspberry was my favourite. I reaped more than I sowed with this one; it was a low maintenance easy-to-make ready-in-a-jiffy concoction that wasn't too sweet, just perfectly lovely and fruity, and I found the little seedy bits really made it more fresh and tasty, rather than annoying - I do have to admit that there can be a little cognitive dissonance associated with my cooking/baking efforts; I'll very often find that something turns out not-so-perfectly and then declare that that's just fine because actually I like it that way.

There is obviously only so much jam one woman can eat (though I certainly put plenty of it into me), so this batch of jam was actually made as a present for two pals who were doing me a huge favour. I therefore had to jazz them up a little and make those jars a little more appealing. Hurrah for that generous roll of brown paper that I bought in Ikea about six months ago. The fabric - well, I guiltily tore some ribbons of cotton from a batch that I bought to make kitchen blinds. I think that looking at this pic may increase the guilt and nudge me into finally cracking out my sewing machine and running up those blinds. 

I bumphed up my little offering with some homemade CDs, complete with packaging made from wallpaper samples and finished off with my eternally useful Lotta Jansdotter  label pack.

My jang-a-lang exploits have been really rewarding; not only have I very noticeably improved, but I also gave some gifts along the way. It's a fairly inexpensive thing to make, and has longevity on the enjoyment front. Just invest in a decent toothbrush and a good big bottle of listerine to make sure that all traces of sugar are quite firmly flushed from your mouth - a head full of brown teeth would make it the gift that keeps on giving in a very negative sense.


  1. I don't drink tea either! I don't mind fruit teas but I don't get how people can drink so much Barrys etc. Snap!

  2. It's always nice to meet a kindred spirit - we are few and far between!