Jam making - Annie Stirk's recipes

PUBLISHED: 19:30 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:15 20 February 2013

Annie Stirk

Annie Stirk

Enjoy summer's soft fruits all year round with your own home made jam. Annie Stirk, our food and wine consultant, shows just how simple it is PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANDY BULMER

Preserving food is all about capturing the taste of seasonal ingredients at their peak, and what better way to keep 'summer in a jar' than home-made jams, jellies and fruit curds.

I love making jam; it's great fun, and there is nothing more satisfying than transforming a glut of strawberries, picked in the warm sunshine, into pots of fragrant softly set jam.

It's delicious piled onto hunks of bread or toast, warm croissants or home-made scones. It's also great as a filling or topping for a traditional Victoria sandwich cake, a steamed jam pudding or roly poly pudding.

I also couldn't resist including a lovely recipe for lemon curd in this month's master class. I love the zesty zing of any recipe with lemons, and homemade lemon curd is a real treat. Again serve it smothered on freshly baked bread and butter, or as a zesty filling for cakes, roulades or biscuits. Mix it with whipped cream for a delicious filling for a light sponge cake.

It is amazingly quick and easy to make, and I am sure once tried, you'll never be tempted to eat shop bought lemon curd again. But back to the strawberry jam. So what exactly is the secret of making good jam? I promise you it's really very easy - just following these simple guidelines and you will soon have plenty of jars of fruity jam lined up in the pantry.

Firstly, whichever fruit you are using it's essential that it is in peak condition, preferably slightly under ripe, so that the pectin content will be at its highest. Please don't be tempted to use over-ripe or damaged fruit - the jam will not set well, and will deteriorate rapidly.

There are plenty of luscious strawberries ripening in the fields, so why not grab a basket, pile the kids or grandchildren into the car, and head off to a Pick Your Own farm for a brilliant day out. Summer is so short - if you hurry you will be able to taste it all year.

Pectin Jams set because of the action of pectin. Pectin occurs naturally in all fruit, and when cooked with sugar, the naturally occurring acids in the fruit allow the jam to thicken and set. The higher the pectin content, the better the set. High pectin fruits include: raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, cooking apples, damsons, quinces, gooseberries and plums.

Low pectin fruits include: blackberries, cherries, elderberries, pears, strawberries and rhubarb. If you are using fruit with a-low pectin content, try adding some fruit with high pectin content such as apples or redcurrants, to give a good set. Alternatively, adding the juice of a lemon to low-pectin fruits will help them set. Commercial pectin in a bottle can be added to low-pectin fruits, or you can use special jam sugar, which has added pectin. I find it gives really good results.

Sugar White granulated sugar is best for jam-making because the coarse grains dissolve slowly and evenly, giving really good glossy jam. The ratio of fruit to sugar is 450g/1lb sugar to 450g/1lb fruit.

Setting test The crucial temperature for jam making is 104C/220F, known as the 'setting point'. Here are some ways to test for setting. Choose one convenient for you.

A sugar thermometer. This is useful but not essential. 1. Dip it into hot water first, then into the jam mixture, taking care not to let it touch the bottom of the pan. If the jam has reached 220F/104C, it is at setting point. 2. The wrinkle test. Place a saucer in the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes or so, then drop a spoonful of the jam onto the cold saucer. After a few seconds push the jam gently with your finger and if it wrinkles, then the jam has reached setting point. If not just continue to boil the jam, testing every few minutes. 3. Test with a wooden spoon. Dip a wooden spoon into the jam. Wait a few seconds, then tilt the spoon and let the jam drip off. If it forms a heavy clot as it drips from the spoon the setting point has been reached.

Sterilizing the jars Although your home-made jam will disappear very quickly, it is important to sterilize the jars before filling them. So wash in hot soapy water, rinse well and then place upside down on a baking sheet in the oven at 150c/gas 2 for at least half an hour. As soon as you pour the jam into sterilized jars, you should cover the surface of the jam with wax discs. This ensures a very good seal and prevents mildew forming on the surface. Store your jam in a cool, dry place well away from direct sunlight, and once opened, keep it in the fridge.

Equipment checklist A preserving pan or heavy-based large saucepan A long handled wooden spoon for stirring Wax coated paper discs Jam funnel - useful for filling the jars Cellophane covers or jam jar lids Labels/pretty covers/coloured string - great if you are giving the jam as a gift A preserving thermometer (optional) Selection of jars or Kilner jars

Check out www.lakeland.co.uk for jam making equipment or try good kitchen or hardware shops.

STRAWBERRY JAM

Ingredients

1kg strawberries

1kg preserving/jam sugar

Juice of 1 large lemon

A knob of butter

Makes approximately 4-5 x 1lb jars

Method

Hull and halve the strawberries, checking for blemishes and discarding any over-ripe or bruised fruit.

Place the strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle with half the preserving sugar. Stir well, add the lemon juice, then cover with cling film and leave overnight or for a couple of hours in the fridge, for the sugar to dissolve.

Tip the sugared strawberries into a preserving pan or similar large roomy pan and add the remaining sugar. Heat gently over a low heat.

Once the sugar has dissolved increase the heat, bring the mixture to a full rolling boil and continue to cook the jam until it reaches setting point. Check the setting point every 10 minutes. It may take up to half an hour.

Place a saucer in the fridge or freezer for 15 minutes. Remove the preserving pan from the heat. Take the cold saucer from the freezer and place a drop of jam onto the surface. After a few seconds push the jam with your finger.

If the jam surface wrinkles then it has reached setting point and is ready. If it slides about as a liquid, then it hasn't reached setting point and should be returned to the heat and boiled for a few more minutes before testing again.

When setting point has been reached, turn off the heat. Stir in the butter and skim off any scum on the surface of the jam with a large slotted spoon.

Let the jam cool and thicken in the pan for 10 minutes so that all the strawberries don't sink to the bottom in the jars.

Carefully remove the sterilized jars from the oven with oven gloves - try to avoid touching the insides of the jars with the oven gloves, which might introduce bacteria.

Stir the jam then ladle it into the sterilized jars using a jam funnel which makes the job easier and less messy.

Cover the top surface of the jam in each jar with waxed paper discs. Press the wax disc down to create a complete seal.

Cover with a lid while still hot, label and store in a cool, dark cupboard for up to a year.


LEMON CURD

Ingredients

4 large eggs

4 large lemons, juice and zest

350g castor sugar

225g unsalted butter cut into cubes

Makes approximately 3 x 1lb jars

Method Whisk the eggs in a bowl and pour into a medium sized pan.

Add the zest and juice of the lemons, the castor sugar and the cubed butter.

Place the saucepan over a medium heat and whisk continuously until the mixture starts to thicken - approximately 7-8 minutes. You will need to use a balloon whisk to whisk hard and fast because the mixture thickens quite quickly.

Lower the heat then let the lemon curd continue to simmer for just one minute. Remove from the heat.

Carefully pour the lemon curd into a jug and then fill the sterilized jars.

Cover immediately with waxed discs and a cellophane top or use a lid.

It will store in a cool pace for a few weeks but once opened will need to be refrigerated.






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