Aug 19

Spiced plum jam

Jam. Jam. Jam. One day I will have a walk-in store cupboard dedicated only to homemade jam and preserves. I will sit in that room from time to time surrounded by all the little glass pots and bask in their glory.

The strange thing is this: today was my first ever jam-making experience. I feel like I have spent years nurturing my jam-making passion but this is probably due to the inordinate amount of time I spend fantasising about it. Not in a weird way. I’m not a member of some strange jam porn club or anything. I just like to imagine myself in a rustic farmhouse kitchen stirring a huge pot of sticky preserve filled with freshly picked fruit from my large and bountiful orchard.

Well, I didn’t end up waiting for my fantasy moment. We were gifted a huge bag of plums and I decided to plunge into my new-jam making career in our urban kitchen.

My very basic research concluded that you only need four things to make jam: fruit, sugar, pectin and acid. The fruit and sugar are often used in equal, or near equal weights. The pectin sometimes present in the fruit and sometimes needs to be added (in the form of preserving sugar) as with the acid (in the form of citrus juice). So far so good.

I then consulted Farmhouse Cookery  and Cookery Year - after all, you can’t go wrong with Reader’s Digest on a matter like this. Cookery Year had a basic recipe for plum jam which involved blanching the plum kernels, splitting them, and then returning them to the pan of jam. In the end, I couldn’t find a nut cracker or any suitable implement to crack them open so decided to miss this stage out. Although I initially thought that the reason for adding the plum kernels was because they contain pectin, later research suggests that this method just gives a more distinctive almondy taste to the jam.

Speaking of pectin, most varieties of plums have plenty so you should be fine using normal sugar. There were a few mentions of pectin tests,  including one in Farmhouse Cookery which suggested a procedure involving the use of methylated spirit and testing for ‘clots’. I didn’t fancy messing around with poisonous spirits creating clots whilst simultaneously trying to make my delicious jam so decided to take my chances with the pectin content of the plums.

Jam setting point

The other important aspect of jam-making is getting the correct setting point. Testing for this will make sure that the jam has reached the right consistency. A sugar thermometer placed in the pan will allow you to instantly see what temperature the mixture has reached at any point. You are aiming to get the jam to 105°C/220°F – this is the perfect setting point. If you are lucky, your thermometer will have the word ‘JAM’ and an arrow pointing to the correct place.

The other option is to use a cold saucer. Simply put a saucer or two in the fridge when you begin to make the jam. Once you have added the sugar and the mixture has been boiling for a few minutes, use a teaspoon to put a small blob of jam onto a chilled plate. Return it to the fridge and leave for a couple of minutes to cool down. Press the surface of the jam with your fingertip, or run your finger through the jam. If the surface wrinkles then the jam has reached the setting point.

Sterilising process

Don’t skip this point. You need to kill any bacteria which may be hiding in the recesses of your jars and any equipment you are using. Sterilise all your jars and pots just before you begin making the jam so they are ready for you to use.

The sterilising process for glass jars is simple. Remove any lids or seals and rinse well. Place the jars upside down on a baking tray and place in the oven. Switch the oven on and allow to reach 140°C. When the oven comes to the correct temperature, leave the jars in for 10 minutes and then switch off the oven. You can leave the jars in the oven until you are ready to fill them.

The lids and rubber seals can be sterilised by putting them into a pan of boiling water for a few minutes. You can take the pan off the heat but leave the tops in the water until you are ready to use them then shake dry. Any awkward items can be rinsed with boiling water.

Recipe – wild plum jam with cinnamon, cloves and star anise

  • 1.5kg / 3 ¼ lbs plums
  • 1.25kg / 2 ¾ lbs  golden caster sugar
  • 250 ml / ½ pint cold water
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 piece root ginger (about 1″)
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 star anise

Halve the plums (leave the kernels in) and place into a large pan.

Pour over the cold water and lime juice. Peel the ginger and cut into large chunks then add this to the pan with the the whole dried spices.

Cover and simmer gently for 35 – 40 minutes until the skin and flesh of the fruit has broken down.

Tip the sugar into the pan and mix well. Stir until the sugar has dissolved then increase the heat and boil the mixture rapidly for 10 – 15 minutes. Keep your eye on the thermometer if you have one.

Test the jam (as explained in the instructions above) until it reaches the setting point – 105°C/220°F

When the jam has reached this point, take the pan off the heat. Remove the spices and plum kernels from the jam with a clean spoon.

Transfer the mixture into the sterilised container using a spoon, ladle or jug and put the lids on while the jam is still warm.

When cool, handwrite nice labels and bestow your pots of handmade jam as gifts to your nearest and dearest.


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