Jam making is a vice that creeps up on you unawares. One minute you’re quite happily purchasing jars of jam from your nearest purveyor of confiture and the next thing you know you’ve got homemade jams, compots and coulis lurking in every available cupboard space; are asking your friends and family to keep empty jars and are handing over jewel like filled jars with warnings such as – “I didn’t get all the stones out I’m afraid,” or “it’s a bit runny.” Odd the way you never see labels on shop bought jam with that kind of information.
This week I made apricot jam. They were selling apricots a pound for a pound on the market. Home I cam with excitement in my heart. For every pound of fruit you need a pound of sugar. Did I have enough in the cupboard? Of course I did. Next to the great jam mountain there’s also sufficient sugar to withstand a siege. I work on the principle that its better to buy it whilst its on special offer rather than to find yourself running short. My cupboards look like I might take twenty teaspoons of sugar in every mug of tea that I drink. I also keep a large bottle of lemon juice lurking in the fridge as most jams that require additional pectin also specify lemon.
Having halved the apricots and removed the stones I was left with two and half pounds of fruit which I covered with granulated sugar and four tablespoons of lemon juice. I then covered the whole lot up and went away to worry for fifteen minutes about the fact that one recipe specified the addition of water whilst the one I’d opted for didn’t.
Having made sure all the fruit was coated in sugar I put my pan over a low heat and began to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar dissolved- which it isn’t so long as the potion has a whitish hue- it was a question of reaching the magic 219 degrees Fahrenheit (I have an antique thermometer) whilst stirring all the time. An hour later I was still squinting at the red line on the thermometer willing the temperature to rise by another degree so that the jam would set and so that I could stop dodging sitting fruit/sugar mixture.
There is a kind of magic in watching fruit and sugar turn into jam. There may also be a hint of masochism. You can buy the stuff at your supermarket for a very reasonable price without running the risk of burning yourself, feeling as though you’re in the middle of a hot flush or having to wash up a rather sticky jam pan.
But there’s nothing to beat the moment when you know you have jam and our it into its jars or indeed the moment when you take that first mouth full and know you got it right.
I do now know why the other recipe suggested water. I have quite a firm set. Its not overdone it’s just somewhat solid. Next time I’ll try the other recipe.
Even as I whirling my jam in a figure eight stirring motion and then sweeping the thermometer through the whole concoction Stan and Tatiana were applying themselves to seedless raspberry jam – there having been a bumper crop this year. There’s more jam makers out there than you realise. Tatiana watched Stan struggling with his wooden spoon trying to push the raspberry mixture through muslin to deseed it and concluded that a more solid dome shaped tool would be helpful which is why Stan found himself using a darning mushroom for a purpose which its manufacturer never intended. It did the job rather nicely I am told. Now, I’ve never darned the socks of HWIOO but I do have a darning mushroom. I’m moving it from my workbox into the kitchen so that when I spot raspberries on the market I’m prepared for seedless raspberry jam.