It seems only a short time ago that I had discovered preserve-making for myself. I began with marmalade out of sheer curiosity–didn’t even like the bought stuff, but it seemed like an intriguing process full of bubbling pans of jewel-like fruit. Smitten with the fact that I was turning out bright jars of delicious jam and envisioning myself as a spoon-wielding kitchen sorcerer standing over my pot, I began to plan my time around and budget jam-making into my everyday life. I made blood orange marmalade, rhubarb & banana jam, blood orange curd, lemon curd, and rhubarb & ginger jam.
That was in late winter and early spring when the culinary fruits were interesting enough to inspire preserving them; the combination of rising temperatures and indifference towards berry jams meant that my jam-making spree petered out as summer came. It’s just as well, really.
Each time I begin a new hobby I have to consciously restrain myself: it’s better in the long run for me, particularly now that I’m nominally a responsible (ha!) adult (oh) living in a tiny flat with another person with, you know, needs and a shared household budget.
I’d like to believe I have a modicum of self-awareness. This is the pattern I have observed when I pursue a hobby, which happens in the span of a few short months:
- Extreme enthusiasm about Thing.
- Learn ALL THE THINGS about Thing.
- Use knowledge to acquire ALL THE THINGS about Thing.
- If applicable, make ALL THE THINGS!
- Give up, exhausted.
So I have to be strict. It mayn’t be directly harmful to clutter our postage-stamp sized living space with the odds and ends of my short-lived infatuation, but it is inconsiderate. I also feel guilty afterwards, and have the sneaking suspicion that what I really enjoy is the thrill of being just good enough in order to achieve an immediate result. To actually have something as an active skill means that one perseveres to maintain it at a particular level or even do the hard and sometimes frightening work of pushing at oneself to improve. Doing it gradually, with natural rests, means it integrates well with the usual pace of daily life. It may seem at once too-serious and very silly to be so concerned about this, but growing up and getting better is important to me. It is one factor I can control.
I’m pleased, therefore, that I have managed to limit my jam-making purchases to glass jars which I take good care of and re-use, a thermometer that has also been very useful for making yoghurt and confectionary, and Mary Tregellas’ beautiful book, ‘Notes From The Jam Cupboard’ (2012). It probably won’t be quite as useful to the seasoned jam maker – Food In Jars would serve you better for sheer variety – but there’s something here for beginners, particularly geared towards Brits with a family life. Tregellas runs through the basics of principles, equipment, and sterilising before giving a range of recipes which include not only jam but pickles, cordials, sauces, things to eat with jam, and recipes using jam.
When my mother mistakenly gave me too many raspberries (nice problems to have!) I solved the issue by making it into jam. Raspberries are nice and tart with a beautiful colour so I was eager to preserve them, and also Tregellas provides a simple recipe and I was keen to ease myself into preserve-making again. I was also inspired by a Nigella Lawson recipe I read–raspberry and lemongrass trifle–and decided to infuse a little lemongrass with the berries. It is one of the better decisions I’ve made in life: lemongrass gives a gentle, uplifting fizz on the tongue, though if you want a distinct lemongrass note you should use more of the herb (say 3 – 4 stalks), perhaps leaving everything to macerate rather than boiling straight away.
You’ll get a very beautiful softly set jam. I want lipstick in this colour, which does exist, but I can’t quite justify the pricetag… but then, for me, nothing is quite like jam for lifting the spirits, so never mind.
RASPBERRY AND LEMONGRASS JAM
Adapted from ‘Notes From the Jam Cupboard’ (2012) by Mary Tregellas. Enough to fill about 2 x 8oz (200ml) jars plus 2/3rds of 1 x 8oz jar. I refrigerated that one right away as gappy jars spoil quickly.
This jam goes speedily so it’s best to have the jars clean, hot and ready for it before you begin preparing the fruit. For guidance on how to sterilise jars, see here. I also add a little bit of salt, a tip a picked up from Miranti – you should read her post on jam-making basics!
I’ve only ever made this jam using the wrinkle test, which works just fine if you remember to let the saucer get very cold, but be sure to use whatever testing method you’re comfortable with.
400g raspberries, fresh and washed, or straight-from-the-freezer frozen
2 – 3 stalks fresh lemongrass, cut into 2 – 3 pieces and then bruised
Freshly squeezed juice from 1 whole lemon
400g white granulated sugar (less if you like but no less than 30% of the weight)
Pinch of flaky sea salt.
Ensure jars, lids, and seals (if applicable) are sterilised before you begin. Put 1 – 2 small saucers into the freezer right away.
Put raspberries and lemongrass into a pan that can hold at least twice their volume. Set over a low heat and stir gently until the raspberries have released and are soaking in their own juices and the whole thing is fragrant.
Add the lemon juice, sugar and salt. Again, stir over a low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, carefully scraping up bottom to check for any remaining crystals.
Once completely syrupy, bring the mixture to a rapid boil for 5 minutes. Pull off the heat to prevent overcooking while you check for set, dripping a little onto your pre-chilled saucer. If it wrinkles even slightly when you push a finger through the jam, it’s ready.
Immediately (with great care and oven gloves where applicable) pot the hot jam into hot sterilised jars, filling as close as possible to the very rim of the jars. Wipe rims and seal. Leave completely undisturbed to cool completely.