Make Apple and Cherry Jam
Why Make Jam?
Preserving fruits is easy. It is a traditional kitchen skill which can create a store of long-life foods which taste delicious, look good and are totally free of artificial colours and synthetic additives. Add a pretty cloth lid over the metal one, and a pot of homemade jam can make a handy last-minute gift.
Harvest fruits from the hedgerow - away from roads, to avoid fruits which may have absorbed toxins from exhaust fumes - or grow fruits in your own garden as we do, and the only financial expenditure is sugar and whatever fuel you use during the cooking process. Making jam is a great way to save money.
Re-cycle old glass jars with screw-on metal lids. Wash jars and lids thoroughly, then rinse in clean water. When you start your jam-making session, spread them out on a baking tray and put them into a cold oven. Raise the temperature to 100 degrees and leave them like that for half-an-hour to sterilise them. Don't lift them out until you're ready to pour the finished jam into the jars. This way, things will remain as hygienic as is possible.
Preparing the Fruit for Jam
Use healthy fruit only. You can't preserve something which is already decaying. If your fruit is bruised and past its best, make a compote instead and use it promptly.
How much fruit you use is up to you. This will probably depend on what's available at the time. It's perfectly ok to mix several types of fruit together to make up quantity. Improvise!
I don't fuss about exact measurements, but the usual rule of thumb is that the weight of your prepared fruit should be twice the weight of the preserving jam to be used. Preserving sugar dissolves more readily than other types.
Wash your fruit under cool running water.
Don't waste time peeling and coring fruit. It's all going to pass through a sieve later anyway. Dice the apples and cut the skins of the cherries to reduce cooking times, and add it to a large pan.
For any jam to set, pectin is needed. You can buy commercial pectin, but why bother when all you really need to do is add three or four apples to the pan of fruit. Pectin occurs naturally in apple pips - another reason why coring fruit for jam-making is pointless.
Cooking Fruit for Jam-Making
Making jam is easy - it just takes a while.
Add the prepared fruit to a large pan, and pour in a cup of water. If the fruit starts to stick as it cooks, add a bit more.
Bring the pan's contents to the boil, then simmer until all the fruit is soft. To speed things up a bit, you might use a masher. Watch out for splashes of boiling fruit, as this can burn skin easily.
Put a large sieve over another pan and pass the pulpy boiled fruit through this, which will catch any pips, stones and skins. (I add this to the garden compost heap, later.) Be prepared that this takes time to complete.
Put an old saucer into the freezer. You'll understand why later.
Bring your sieved fruit back to the boil, then carefully stir in the preserving sugar. Make sure it's all dissolved thoroughly. Bring this back to the boil and stop stirring it. You need to really get a lot of heat rolling through this now, so the pan's contents look like boiling lava.
As the jam gets near to being ready, you'll see it change in the pan. It's consistency will take on a syrup-like thickness. If any pale scurf comes to the surface, gently scoop this off and discard it. It won't effect the flavour in any way, but it may cloud the colour of the finished product.
Take your old saucer out of the freezer and use a spoon to drop a little of the jam onto it. Let it cool for a few minutes, then gently push at the jam on the plate. If the surface wrinkles slightly, your jam's ready. If it doesn't, return the saucer to the freezer, let the jam cook a bit longer, then try again.
You are now ready to transfer the contents of your pan into sterile jars. You can use a soup ladle for this, or a wide-necked funnel.
Simply lift your tray of jars out of the oven, and off you go.
Set the filled jars on a cooling rack. While the jam is still hot, put a wax paper disc over the surface of the jam, and try not to trap little air pockets between the seal and the jam. Air carries bacteria, and the aim is to keep things as sterile as possible.
Add screw-on lids ASAP. Tighten them later, to make sure they're on properly.
All that is left to do is make labels, so you know which kind of jam is in the jar. Adding a date is advisable too, as unopened jam can be safely stored for years in a cool, dark place. I use a traditional preserves cupboard but an ordinary cupboard will serve just as well. Or you could put jam jars inside a cardboard box and store them in a basement or garage if you wished to.
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© 2010 Adele Cosgrove-Bray