Preserving Food (part one): WE’RE JAMMING!

There seems to be a kind of (inadvertent?) conspiracy about preserving food such as through making jam or pickles. On the one hand, people in the West increasingly seem to grow up with the notion that unless food is prepared in sterile factory conditions, or under the guise of experts, then it is a bacteria-infested deathtrap. On the other hand there is also an impression given from other quarters of society that making jam or pickles at home is the preserve (excuse the pun) of middle-class housewives.


There are two extremes to making preserves such as jams and pickles. One is by looking at it from the entirely culinary point of view, using elaborate and over-priced equipment available at those you-will-only-use-this-stuff-once-a-year specialized kitchen shops, throwing in tons of ingredients that apparently make all the difference (to your bank balance, mostly) and ending up with an admittedly tasty preserve that your friends and neighbours will rave about for months, but which oddly needs to be kept in the fridge and used within a week before it turns blue. The other extreme is looking at it from the strictly preserving aspect, just using what you need to make the jam or pickle last at least a year, knowing that the food is safe to eat and strictly satisfied with your jams tasting of fruity sugar and your pickles tasting of vinegar.

Personally, I prefer looking at it from the latter perspective, keeping things cheap and simple, but probably making something more robust and longer-lasting than the more florid preserves. This doesn’t mean that I won’t allow a little room for culinary experimentation, merely that I use the cornerstone notion that my jams or pickles are there to last, the same way some of our great-great-grandparents had to rely on preserves to see them through the winter.

Up till now the Common Ground garden has focused on growing food, with the journey pretty much finished at the harvest stage. I’d like to expand on that a little, looking into traditional food preservation techniques which I hope to write about in the coming weeks. I’m no expert on the subject, just a guy who tried it out. But trust me, if I can do it then anyone can.

We’ll start with jam.


Back in July, a rich crop of blackcurrants in the Common Ground garden convinced me to try my hand at making jam. To make it I used a method described in the great little book Food for Free, by Richard Mabey, available in those nifty pocket editions for under a fiver. There are also loads of recipes on the internet, though the basic principle remains the same. I placed the currants in a saucepan and just covered them with water, simmering them for half an hour. I then measured the resulting goo and added a gram (gr) of sugar for every milliliter (ml) of goo, bringing it back to the boil for a bit while stirring. I didn’t bother straining the pulp, nor did I use any of the scientific equipment to make sure that the jam boiled at 105°c – I just boiled it and tested it for setting by putting a spoonful of it to cool in the fridge for five minutes. Meanwhile I had thoroughly cleaned an old pasta sauce jar which I then sterilized with boiling water and dried in an oven at low heat. When the jam was ready and still boiling I poured it into the jar and secured the screw-on lid straight away, as the jam cooled, the seal popper on the metal lid collapsed back in, showing it was well and truly sealed.

The jam, I am pleased to say was delicious. Since then I’ve repeated my first success, making jams with raspberries, plums, blackberries and apples. Not bad for a complete beginner.

Jam settles because of the pectin in the fruit (the ton of sugar helps too), but some fruit lack this pectin. Fruits like lemons, apples, plums, blackcurrants and apricots contain lots of pectin, although they tend to lose it the riper they get, while fruits like strawberries and grapes contain very little pectin. If the fruit you are trying to make into jam is low in pectin, then you may need to stir in some pieces of crab apples during the boiling process, or adding in bottled pectin, which is available in shops, though easiest is to just squeeze in some lemon juice. So once done and bottled, put the sealed jam jar into a cupboard to cool and settle out of sight, leave it overnight and check it in the morning. A watched kettle never boils, and a watched pot of jam never settles!



2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Edd
    Oct 06, 2011 @ 10:25:40

    Isn’t apple jam just compot?


    • beccabeee
      Oct 06, 2011 @ 15:51:30

      That’s what I thought until I found a recipe for apple jam. Compot is runnier than jam, generally made with less sugar and without added pectin that allows jam to settle (depending on the fruit).


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