It’s that time of year where the PYO fields are full of my favourite summer fruit and I love spending an afternoon with my family gathering punnets of luscious red strawberries. It’s so satisfying to come home with boxes full of fruit ready to be turned into all sorts of delicious things. And some are always saved to eat fresh or decorate the tops of cupcakes.
In our house we really love jam and enjoy spending an afternoon in the kitchen turning freshly picked fruit into jars of shiny jam. I store them away in a dark cupboard then, when I open a jar in the middle of winter, I immediately think of long sunny days and taste of summer.
Jars of home made jam also make wonderful gifts, especially if you cover the lid with a a circle of pretty fabric and tie it on with some ribbon. Or nestle a few jars in some tissue paper and place them in a special basket.
Once you’ve made your jam, there are all sorts of things you can use it for. Simply spread on toast, crumpets or bread. But also as a filling for cakes, such as a classic Victoria sponge or as a secret centre in a batch of cupcakes. Of course, there are jam tarts which are definitely a kids favourite (I think I must be a child at heart as they’re one of my favourites too!). And one of my husbands all time favourites, Bakewell tart.
I know a lot of people are a bit scared of making jam, thinking that it’s too complicated or that there’s too many things which can go wrong. But it really is a lot easier than you might have thought and, as long as you follow the recipe, you will be just fine. I have had times where my jam hasn’t set properly and, when this has happened, I’ve just poured it all back in the pan, brought it up to the boil and cooked it for a little longer. Recently, I’ve changed from using standard sugar to special jam sugar and find this is much more reliable and also quicker which results in a brighter more flavoursome jam. You can find this easily in the baking section of the supermarket.
Sterilising your jars
Before you start making your jam, you will need to ensure you have plenty of clean, sterilised jars. There are two basic ways of doing this, both of which are easy to do.
Firstly, you can place your jars and lids in the dishwasher and run these through on a hot cycle. Then, place them on a baking tray and put them in an oven heated to 100 degrees centigrade. This will keep them warm until you are ready to pot the jam. It is important that you don’t pour hot jam into cold jars or they are likely to crack!
Secondly, you can wash the jars by hand in hot soapy water. Don’t dry them, just place them straight onto the baking tray. For this method, you will then need to put them in an oven heated to 170 degrees centigrade for 10 minutes. After this time, turn the oven down to 100 degrees and leave the jars to keep warm until your jam is ready.
I tend to use recycled jars from previous batches of jam and also leftover ones from supermarket sauces etc. You can buy brand new jars from places like Hobbycraft, Lakeland, The Range etc if you like but I prefer to recycle ones I already have.
The following is enough to make 3-4 jars of jam. I tend to make larger batches than this and, if you want to do the same, just increase the amounts depending on how much fruit you have. When you do this, you need to ensure the proportions are correct.
- 800g (1 3/4lb) fresh strawberries. This is the weight of the fruit after you’ve removed the stalk/leaves and is equivalent to about 900g (2lb) unprepared fruit. You don’t need to wash the fruit. If there are any pieces of fruit that have sand or soil on them, brush this off with a piece of kitchen paper.
- 1kg jam sugar. I tend to use silver spoon brand.
- A knob of butter.
You will also need 3-4 clean, sterilised jars, a potato masher (preferably a metal one), a large saucepan, a wooden spoon and some sort of timer. Your pan should be the biggest you have as the jam will bubble up a lot during cooking. I also find it helpful to have a ladle and a heat-proof jug for potting the jam.
1) Place your strawberries in the large saucepan. Squash them with the potato masher. This will break up the fruit and allow the juices to start running. I like jam with largish pieces of strawberries in it so I don’t squash the fruit too much. If you prefer a smoother jam, you can mash the fruit more.
2) Tip your sugar ontop of the strawberries and place the pan onto your hob.
3) On a gentle heat, stir the fruit and sugar together whilst stirring continuously. Do not allow the jam to boil. You need to make sure that all the sugar has dissolved before moving onto the next stage. To start with, the mixture will feel ‘gritty’ from the granules of sugar. You can tell that the sugar has dissolved as the jam will feel smooth when you stir it and there are no grains of sugar on the back of the spoon.
4) Add the knob of butter to the mixture.
5) Increase the heat to high, continue stirring all the time and bring the jam to a full rolling boil. The jam will bubble vigorously, will rise in the pan and you will not be able to stir it down. It is very important to get the jam to this stage otherwise it will not set!
6) Once you have reached the stage described above, set the timer for 4 minutes only. Do not alter this time, even if you are making a larger batch. Keep stirring during this time but do be careful as the hot jam may splutter out of the pan.
7) When the 4 minutes have passed, remove the jam from the heat and take your warm, sterilised jars out of the oven. You need to pot the jam straight away or it will begin to set in the saucepan – not what you want!
8) My method for potting the jam is to ladle some of the jam from the pan into the heat-proof jug. Then carefully and slowly pour the jam from the jug into the jars. Repeat until you have used up all of the jam. You need to fill the jars almost to the top.
If you have a bit of extra jam that isn’t enough to fill a jar, just pour this into a ramekin dish or a small bowl. This is like the cook’s perk and a little taster but needs to be eaten soon because it isn’t sealed – not that this is ever a problem in my house!!
9) Once you have filled the jars, hold each one with a tea towel or oven glove and tightly screw on the lid.
10) Leave the jars until completely cold, which normally means overnight for me.
11) Once cold, label the jam so you know what it is and when you made it.
And that’s it, your jam is made!! I’m sure that was easier than you thought and you now have some delicious jars of strawberry jam, which will taste much nicer than anything you can buy in the shops.
I’ll be uploading some other easy jam recipes very soon so keep an eye on my blog. Happy preserving!