I had crates of stone fruit left over from my South African stone fruit supper club so I got to work. I made fruit leather, fruit hand pies, poached plums in red wine, compote and jams.
I started off making jam, using Vivien Lloyd’s excellent book First Preserves. But British jam is different from other sorts. To be called jam, in the traditional Women’s Institute style, you need a certain proportions, usually 1:1:1 of sugar, fruit and water, which works out as a minimum of 60%, for a fruit spread to be considered as jam.
I’ve belatedly realised that this is why I don’t particularly like jam, it’s too shriekingly sugary for me. Maybe that’s why I’m a Marmite lover! The good thing about the British technique is that the jams last a long time, have a good spreading consistency and the colour is not too dark.
I also asked Gloria Nicol for advice. She is passionate about making original, fresh tasting, stunning jams and preserves. She puts less sugar, only 70%, and macerates the fruit in dry sugar for 24 hours before boiling to setting point and bottling. This is technically called ‘preserve’. I found her technique inspirational.
I had peaches, yellow plums and purple plums. I made the following flavours:
- peach and vanilla (like a hot sultry Southern American summer in a jar.)
- yellow plum and orange flower water
- yellow plum and lavender
- purple plum and green Bengali citrus
- bubble gum plum using Flavorking which is actually a plumcot, a blend of plum and apricot.
This is Gloria’s technique:
This makes 2 jars of 450g and 1 jar of 227g of standard jam jar sizes. I collect Bonne Maman jars which contain 370g, so you could make 3 jars in that size.
1 kilo stoned fruit (just ripe fruit, not spoiled)
750g granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Flavourings such as vanilla, lavender, citrus, orange flower water
Cut the stoned fruit into quarters and place in a large bowl, using alternating layers of fruit and sugar. Add your flavourings.
In the morning, heat this mixture through on a low medium heat for around ten minutes until the sugar is completely dissolved. Leave to macerate for between 3 and 24 hours. Cut out a circle of parchment paper and cover the surface of the bowl/pan so that it stays clean (and doesn’t form a skin).
Fish out the fruit and put into another bowl.
Sterilise your jars by putting them into a low oven (140cº) for 20 minutes.
Wash the lids in boiling water. You should use new lids every time but sometimes I use plastic cellophane circles/seals on top of the jars, then you can reuse the same lids.
If you are using lightning clip jars, put the orange rubber seals (check they are in good condition) in boiling water for five minutes to soften and clean them, this way it’s easy to stretch the orange seals around the caps.
Let lids/seals air dry, drying with a tea towel will contaminate them.
Place the liquid into a heavy bottomed pan or preserving pan and boil hard for ten minutes. Then add the lumps of fruit which you set aside earlier and make sure you reach setting point.
There are 3 ways to see if you’ve reached setting point, according to Vivien Lloyd:
- Have some little saucers in the freezer. Pull one out, add some of the boiling jam and then see if the top wrinkles when you push the jam.
- Check if when you lift your wooden spoon, the jam coagulates on the spoon.
- Check the temperature. It should reach 104.5cº
Once set, pour the jam into the prepared jam jars which should still be warm, about half way. Fill to the top, leaving about 3mm, then cover with a wax circle, then the cellophane circle, this will create a seal. Then, when cooler, screw on the lids tightly.
I would really recommend buying a jam jar funnel as it makes the whole process easier and less messy, when tipping the hot jam into the jars.
If using new lids, screw on the lid while the jar is still hot, tighten, then turn the jar upside down so that the lid is sterilised too.
Label them with the name and date as soon as they are cool enough to do so.
Lily (A Rhubarb Rhapsody)
I too have a glut of stone fruit and absolutely love jam. But like you, I want my jam to taste of the fruit, not just sugar. The combinations you've come up with sound wonderful. The yellow plum and orange flower water jam sounds especially inviting.
Thanks – I have got to try this. Like you, I find most British jam too sugary… (And it will also help me with the size of my pan, as the fruit goes into the jars before the frantic boiling stage – leaving more room for scary boiling sugar syrup to erupt.)
Yes, now I've analysed what the problem is, I'll make and eat more jam
The good thing about making your own jam and preserves is that you can make them with a little less sugar. It does make me feel very satisfied when using up excess fruit for jam or marmalade, nothing goes to waste and its so pleasurable to open you own freshly made preserves. Lovely.
Yes you feel rather virtuous and Ma Waltonish don't you, when making jam. I recently opened a jar of preserved lemons that I made before christmas, so much ncier than shop bought
Hi Lily, yes do try this recipe, it's very vibrant. A few drops of orange flower water perfume the fruit
Really liked this jam post and thought you might like to see a video I created on making plum jam https://vimeo.com/30086351
Hi Carl, sorry I rushed off to South Africa after writing this post and missed your comment. But your video is about mushrooms! Still liked it
Having moved to France from the UK I realise that one reason for the higher sugar content is that fruit doesn't get so sweet when in ripens in a country with less sun. Same thing is noticeable with making fruit-based desserts – crumble is better with sharper fruits to get the contrast with the sweetness of the topping, as well as the textures. I have never yet found the reason for adding water which you then have to boil off – if you soak the fruit and sugar together overnight the sugar dissolves with no problem.