Well let’s turn away from the deep stuff and look at what really matters: jam. There is something altogether delightful about making and eating home made jam. It makes you feel like someone from Little House on the Prairie when you have a pantry or a store cupboard full of home made preserves, and better still it tastes fantastic. I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth and lots of shop bought jams are far too sweet for me but a home made jam has a juicy tang to it that undercuts the sweetness perfectly.
If you have never made jam before this is the easiest jam ever, doesn’t take too long and uses autumn raspberries which we find much easier to grow and tastier than summer ones. For some reason our raspberries are massively prolific and produce great thickets of canes with runners coming up all over the place, ready to invade the cutting garden or the rhubarb patch the moment you turn your back. For a couple of weeks we are quite excited about bringing in raspberries and eat them with cream or icecream or on cereal for breakfast but eventually we simply can’t keep up. Raspberries freeze well but they jam even better.
You will need:
1 kilogram of raspberries. I try to make sure there are no creatures in the fruit but I never wash them as it makes the jam too wet.
1 kilogram of jam sugar. Raspberries have very little of the natural pectin which helps jam to set. If you don’t have jam sugar you can use ordinary granulated but you will produce a very runny jam.
5 or 6 empty jam jars with screw lids.
A large pan, ideally a preserving pan. If you don’t have one use your biggest pan but don’t forget that the jam will boil and this will mean that while it is cooking the fruit mixture will be about three times the depth of the raw fruit and sugar so, to give room for expansion, the fruit mixture should take up no more than the bottom quarter of your pan. If it takes up more than this, divide it between two pans.
I use a metal jam funnel to make it easy to get the jam into the jars. If you don’t have one you can achieve a reasonably tidy transfer from pan to jar by using a plastic jug.
Make sure the jars are really clean and then sterilise them. There are all sorts of ways of doing this. You can wash them in the dishwasher but that always takes too long for me. You can put them in the microwave for a minute without their lids. I put a newspaper onto a shelf in the oven to spread the heat and put the jars on it for about ten minutes at the lowest heat my oven will produce. My father in law likes the Daily Mail. While I try never to read it because it makes me bounce around swearing and tearing my hair out and I think that has to be bad for the soul, it is the perfect thickness for lining an oven shelf. This is what is known as a small mercy.
While the jars are sterilising put a small plate in the fridge to get cold. You will use this to test whether your jam is ready to set.
Put the fruit and the sugar in the pan with no added water over a low heat. Stir gently from time to time until the sugar is dissolved.
Then turn the heat up so that you get a fast boil. When it has been boiling for about seven minutes take the pan off the heat to test for setting point. Whenever you test you need to make sure the jam is not still cooking. Take a teaspoonful of jam from the pan and put it on your cold plate. Put the plate back in the fridge and leave it for one minute. Take the plate out and push the jam with the end of your finger. If it is ready to set it should wrinkle. Jam made with jam sugar gets to this stage pretty quickly and reliably. It really is a wrinkle you are looking for, not a great cavernous crag like the wrinkles on the face of an ancient shepherd but a clear, gentle wrinkle like the kind you get under your eyes. If your finger leaves a clear patch on the plate but the jam shows no signs of a gentle wrinkle you are not quite ready yet. Put the plate back in the fridge and the jam back on the heat for another three or four minutes of boiling and test again.
When it is ready to set, take your jars from the oven (they will be hot). Potting up the jam can be a messy business. I use a heatproof plastic jug and a plastic bowl. I dip the jug in the pan and hold it over the bowl so as not to cover the kitchen with jammy drips. Despite this I normally manage to drip somewhere. Pour the hot jam into the hot jars and tighten the lids. If you do drip down the side of the jar, the drips wipe off easily with a damp cloth while the jam is warm. Similarly, the pan and jug come clean quickly and easily if you wash them in hot soapy water immediately.
Line the jars up. Label them. Open one and have some straight away on fresh bread.
Here there should be a picture of home made bread with Welsh butter, slathered in new raspberry jam, but I ate it.