Jam making is lots of fun; sometimes it's hard not to break into a sugar-fuelled rendition of Bob Marley when stirring a molten vat of berries.
I made my first batch of jam last year - after a over enthusiastic afternoon at the PYO left us with four kilos of strawberries, slowly turning to sludge in the fridge - and quickly became a convert. Not only is it very easy, but the feeling you get cracking open a new jar on a miserable winter's morning is worth having to clean up all the sticky sugar trails that seem to cover the kitchen floor and worktops, no matter how careful you are.
There's something wonderfully simple and old fashioned about it all; collecting your berries, finding suitable old glass jars (and making sure you've still got the matching lids) and buying big bags of jam sugar. There's also a certain sense of alchemy, like baking a cake, when ingredients come together to make a sum so much greater than their parts.
I've been using a ratio of 50:50 fruit to sugar. (jam sugar if there's not much pectin in the fruit, although this will make the jam set a little firmer.) You can make jam with less sugar, but as it acts as a preservative as well as a sweetener it may not keep as long. This isn't a problem if you only want to make a couple of jars, but not so good if you want to stock the store cupboard. If you want to know more about jam making, pectin levels of different fruits and any problems you may encounter, then this Darina Allen article in the Guardian will tell you far more than I'm sure I'll ever know.
The first recipe uses wild brambles, collected from a patch in my front garden. If you're not lucky enough to have any growing nearby then just use shop bought blackberries instead. You may want to reduce the sugar a little, or add a little squeeze of lemon if the fruit's very sweet. The raspberry version was my attempt to try combine the flavour of almond with the berries. Crunchy jam may seem a little bizarre, but it turned out rather well and tastes like Bakewell tart on toast! If you don't fancy it you could add a dash of almond essence, or skip the nuts altogether and try a splash of Scotch instead.
One very important thing when making any preserves is sterilising the jars. I've found the easiest way to do this is to wash the jars in hot soapy water then place them on a few sheets of newspaper in a low oven until thoroughly dry (you can do this just before you start making the jam). Wash and dry the lids in the same way, or sterilise in boiling water and dry with a clean cloth.
Raspberry and Almond Jam
(makes 5/6 small jars)
1kg Sugar (use jam sugar for a firmer set)
A squeeze of lemon juice
1 tsp of butter (if needed)
50g Flaked almonds, lightly toasted
Sterilise your jars (see above).
Place a saucer in the freezer
Put the berries, lemon juice and sugar into a large, stainless-steel saucepan.
Mash the berries slightly with the back of a wooden spoon and stir on a gentle heat for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring mixture to a rolling boil and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently to stop it catching.
Take the saucer from the freezer and test for a set by putting about a teaspoon of jam on it and leaving it for a few minutes. If the jam wrinkles when you push it with your index finger then it's ready.
If not then continue boiling for a couple of minutes and check again.
Remove from the heat and skim off any scum. A teaspoon of butter, stirred into the jam now, will also help disperse it.
Stir in flaked almonds and mix thoroughly.
Pour the hot jam into the hot, sterilised jam jars and put the lids on immediately.
Store in a cool place and refrigerate once open.
Wild Bramble Jam
As above, but using wild brambles or blackberries, and omitting the nuts. You can also substitute some of the berries with the same weight of grated apple too; Bramleys give a nice bite. The pectin in the apple also means you won't need to use jam sugar.