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This guide aims to help you get to grips with the basics of making jams and preserves. We look at the history behind jam as well as the essential supplies you need to get started, methods, and more!
When making jams and preserves, you can store your finished concoctions in used jars or brand new shop bought ones. Just ensure that before you pot your preserves, your jars are scrupulously clean. It’s important to kill all bacteria and organisms so that the contents remain fresh and well preserved.
There are several ways in which you can sterilise your jam jars. This guide will explain the dishwasher and oven methods. Both will ensure your jars dry off thoroughly after washing and remain hot, ready for potting your preserve of choice.
If you’re lucky enough to own a dishwasher, this method is a very convenient way to sterilise your jam jars. A dishwasher’s drying cycle leaves glass and cutlery very hot, which is perfect for potting preserves.
Making jam involves cooking boiling fruit until it reaches a setting point. There are various stages jam goes through whilst cooking, and there are various tests that can be done to ensure a perfect consistency for spreading. Any jam recipe can be used with this method.
Stage 1: Cooking the Fruit
Stage 2: Rapid Boil
Stage 3: Skimming
While your jam is boiling rapidly, you’ll notice scum setting on the top and around the sides of the mixture. Remove the scum as soon as you spot it rising to the surface. The best utensil for this job is a slotted metal spoon. Removing scum will ensure a smooth overall texture; otherwise it’ll bond with any peel or pulp when cooling down in the jar later.
Stage 4: Testing
At this point, study your mixture and check whether the jam is beginning to set. The mixture will begin to thicken around the sides and the bubbles will appear less frothy; they’ll be larger and pop slowly. Now you can test the jam – there are two methods for this: the flake test and the wrinkle test. These tests can be done once every 3 - 5 minutes.
Flake Test: Use a clean wooden spoon to scoop up a small amount of jam. Allow to cool slightly before tilting back into the pan. If the last bit of jam falls in a flake rather than a liquid stream, the jam is set and ready!
Wrinkle Test: Before you start making your jam, place a few plates into the fridge or even the freezer. When you’re ready to test the jam, take a cold plate and place a teaspoonful of jam and place on top. Allow to cool slightly then run your finger through the jam. If the surface wrinkles, then you have a perfectly set jam.
A typical chutney or relish is thick and chunky. Vegetables are mainly used in these preserves which contain a large quantity of water; when cooked, the water releases into the mixture which could completely ruin the end product. It’s important to gently cook out the water for a thick consistency, while the sugar and vinegar will preserve the vegetables.
Stage 1: Prep
Stage 2: Cooking
Stage 3: Testing
Stage 3: Pureeing
As with making most sauces, this step requires reducing the cooked mixture into a puree. You can either pass the mixture through a sieve or a blender. You can choose whether you want a completely smooth chutney/relish or a thicker mixture with cubes of ingredients remaining.
Potting Sweet Preserves:
You must pot your jam into warm, sterilised jam jars as soon as it’s reached its setting point. Make sure you have all your potting equipment at the ready: jars, ladle, funnel, wax circles, and lids.
Potting Savoury Preserves:
Potting your chutneys, pickles etc. is the same as potting jam except you’ll require vinegar-proof lids.