Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Luxury in a jar - Berry and rhubarb jam

Just the other morning while I was filling out the little jars at work with breakfast jam, I thought to myself,

"Such luxurious times we live in".

Centuries ago, jam was a delicacy only the royalty enjoyed. These preserves were made from fruit picked from the garden and glasshouse on the palace grounds. Fast forward to the present and I am portioning jam from a large bucket and everyone can enjoy a jam sandwich. Isn't it funny how we take these little luxuries for granted?

Of course there are jams, and there are jams. What sets the standard for the heavy-weights is the percentage of fruit. To me, any preserve containing a minimum of 45% fruit is called a jam. Anything less, it is a jelly or a fruit spread - and this is by no means my personal dismissal of its quality, merely a question of semantics.

Although I was tempted to make this jam without the use of commercial pectin, the idea of gathering enough apple pips or making an apple peel stock had me change my mind at the drop of a spoon. The truth is, most commercial pectin is derived from apple anyway but is conveniently crystallised for use. Initially, I planned on using raw sugar in my jam but spotted jam-setting sugar conveniently packaged in 1kg bags at my local grocery which is just the amount I required. Although, it costs a fraction more than raw or white sugar, it really does make the whole process, less of a process - that is, there is no need to:

  1. measure pectin then mixing it through the sugar to prevent it from clumping together

  2. determine the appropriate amount of citric acid required to activate the pectin and,

  3. be left behind with a jarful of pectin that you may never use again, unless you are considering jam-making as a hobby.

The jam I made is a no-fuss-cook-in-30-minutes-soft-set variety. The advantage of the short cooking time is you get to preserve the vibrant colour and taste of the fruit and as a result, a more robust jam in both flavour and visual appeal. Some recipes call for a knob of butter to be added when the jam has come to its setting point. This does not affect the flavour of the jam and is merely done to help disperse the foam that accumulates during boiling (scientifically, its job is to break the surface tension of the jam). Some argue that this step may affect the shelf life of the product but I cannot personally remark on this as I have very little jam-making experience. I find skimming the foam off the surface of the jam before placing them in jars just as easy.

If you wish to read more about proper jam-making, this site offers some good guidelines. As does this site. However, I must add my jam (although breaking a few rules highlighted in aforementioned sites) is pretty spectacular and should you try it, you would probably think so too.

So try it, and let me know what you think.

Berry and rhubarb jam
500g raspberries
300g strawberries, hulled
300g rhubarb, peeled, cut to 2cm pieces and cured overnight with 1/2 cup sugar
1kg CSR jam-setting sugar
peel of 1 orange
peel of 1 lemon
1 vanilla pod, split and scraped
(makes 5-6 250ml jars)
mix berries and rhubar in a large bowl with jam setting sugar
place fruit in a large non-reactive pot and gently heat to dissolve sugar
add citrus peel and vanilla seeds and pod
bring to a rolling boil for 5-6 minutes
test to see if jam has set by placing a small amount on a cold plate. It is ready when a skin forms and it fails to run all over the plate (NB this jam is soft set, just the way I like it. You may need to use additional pectin if you prefer a firm set jam)
remove peel and vanilla pod
place in hot sterilised jars (I wash my jars and lids in hot soapy water then place them in the oven set at 120C to dry. I keep them at this temperature until I am ready to fill them with jam)
screw the jar tops on while jam is still hot and place in a cool dark place to store.

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