Posted 27th Sep 2017
The old-time British tradition of making jam is enjoying something of a comeback, amidst the current hype for baking. Here, Mary Cadogan offers her top jam making tips
1 Choose the right sugar for your fruit
For high-pectin fruits like apples, pears, plums and oranges, you'll only need ordinary granulated sugar or preserving sugar which will have quick dissolving crystals. For the low-pectin fruits however, such as cherries, grapes and strawberries, you only need to use proper jam sugar, which will have added pectin. The appropriate sugar will not only ensure a better set, but will also cook more quickly to capture the fruity flavour.
2 Use a wide pan with a thick base
Using the right type of pan will help your jam cook more evenly, allowing more area for the mixture to bubble and evaporate. It's crucial to continue stirring the jam while you cook it to prevent it catching on the bottom of the pan - it can also be helpful to use a jam funnel, which helps you get it into jars without spilling any.
3 Pick under-ripe fruit
It's a common misconception that you can use squishy, out of date fruit when making jam. Once fruit has become over ripe, it will lose much of the acid that is essential for making your own.
4 Cut the sugar
Traditional recipes will use equal quantities of sugar and fruit but you can afford to reduce the sugar to allow the fruity flavours to shine through. A rough guideline will be for every kilogram of fruit, you would need 750 grams of sugar. By keeping this down, you will get a softer set.
5 Cook in small batches
While cooking huge batches of your trademark flavoured jam could feel productive, nobody wants the inevitable 20 jars of forgotten jam at the back of the cupboard. Cook yours in small batches, a few jars at a time, and experiment with different flavours. This ultimately makes each batch feel a bit more special, and you will feel free to experiment with flavour combinations.
6 Invest in a good thermometer
Removing the guesswork will make cooking jam so much easier. Getting your jam to the perfect temperature to set is crucial, so it can be good to invest in an accurate and easy to use thermometer.
7 Pimp the flavour
There are a wide range of options and combinations with regards to jam flavouring. Loganberry with star anise; rhubarb and ginger; white peach and raspberry; rosemary, pepper; cardamom - the list goes on. Using garden herbs, spices and whatever flavour comes to mind will give your jam a personal touch to separate it from whatever you can find in a supermarket.
8 Use fruit in season for the best flavour
Keep your eye on the market stalls and try fruit picking to get the best available. Hand picking the fruit will add to the whole feel-good experience.
9 Don't forget the acid
Controlling the pH levels by adding acid in the form of lemon juice is crucial to let the jam set well in addition to preventing the jam from going off in the jar.
10 Prepare the jars
Sterilise your jam jars, either by putting them in the dishwasher on high heat with no detergent, or rinse and put them in the oven at 160 degrees (gas mark 3) for ten minutes. Make sure you label your jars with the date and flavour for future reference too - ensure your jam has cooled for 15 minutes before potting to ensure the fruit will be evenly distributed through the jar.