Helpful Hints for
Page Last Updated
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Please read these tips before starting as they will ensure perfect results every time.
Before embarking on a session of Jam, Jelly or Conserve making it would be as well to give a few definitions as to what we are making:
"Jam" is a fruit boiled down with sugar until set.
"Jelly" is a clear, shiny and fairly stiff "jam" made from the juice of fruit that is high in pectin and acid
"Conserve" is similar to jam but contains whole fruit.
"Preserve" is fruit etc., preserved in syrup, usually thick. The fruit is usually left whole or cut into large pieces.
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To peel large quantities of fruit or even pickling onions, place in a bowl, and cover with boiling water. Let stand for one to two minutes. Drain and cover with cold water. The skin should easily slip off. Works very well for fruit such as peaches, apricots, tomatoes, pickling onions etc.
Jams and Conserves
Fruit should always be as freshly picked as possible, and slightly underipe if, because it is at this stage that the fruit contains the most amount of pectin. Pectin is the setting agent in Preserves. For the best results in Jam making try to keep fruit quantities to around 2kg. This will result in shorter cooking times and will give better results in flavour, texture and appearance.
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Try this basic recipe which will always work as long as the fruit is at its peak and that the acid and pectin levels are balanced.
Wash the fruit and cut away any bruised or damaged areas. Chop or slice the fruit, keeping the seeds if any as these will add extra pectin for setting (these can be tied in a muslin bag and boiled with the fruit, the bag being discarded later).
Put the fruit in a pan. The fruit layer should not be more than 3 cms deep, which will allow for rapid evaporation later. Just cover the fruit with water and bring to the boil rapidly. Reduce heat and simmer gently to extract the pectin, acid and full flavour from the fruit. This softening process can take from 10 minutes for soft fruit like berries to 1.5 hours for tough citrus rinds.
Once the fruit is soft, measure the mixture in a measuring cup and add one cup of sugar to each cup of fruit.
Return the fruit and sugar to the pan and gradually increase the heat until all the sugar is dissolved. It is important to note that the sugar should all be dissolved before the mixture boils otherwise the jam may crystallize. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush down the sides of the pan and ensure that all crystals are dissolved.
Once all the sugar is dissolved, boil rapidly until the mixture thickens or reaches the "jell" stage. This may take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. Do not stir the jam after the sugar has dissolved, but check with a wooden spoon that it is not sticking to the bottom of the pan, particularly towards the end of the process as the jam will be getting much thicker. Test for jelling regularly.
When the jam is at jelling stage,skim the surface if necessary to remove any foam or fruit scum. If jam contains pieces of fruit, let it stand for between 5 and 10 minutes before bottling. This gives the mixture a chance to cool slightly and the fruit to spread out evenly.
Note 1 : Marmalade usually needs the full 10 minutes standing time !
Note 2 : Pulpy fruit should be bottled immediately.
Note 3 : For those of you who own a candy thermometer, Jams and Jellies will reach " jelling point" at 105º C to 106º C ( or 220º F to 222º F ).
Pour your jam into hot, pre- sterilized jars and always remember that they need to be filled to within 8mm of the top, as jam shrinks as it cools.Tap jars on a table to release any air bubbles which may be trapped.
When cold, seal with melted wax or with waxed paper discs, label jars neatly, add the date, and store in a cool dark place. If your jam has been cooked and sealed correctly, it should last for 12 months or more. When opened it should be stored in the refrigerator.
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Follow the first three points as for Jam and Conserve making but strain the fruit before adding sugar. This is done in a variety of ways as set out below :
If a commercial Jelly bag is not available you can improvise as I have done many times. A jelly bag can be made by turning a chair or stool upside down on a table; tie corners of a a square of damp cloth ( unbleached calico, an old tea towel, muslin or a piece of old sheet ) securely to the legs of the chair, leaving the cloth loose enough to dip in the centre. Place a large bowl under the bag or cloth and pour the fruit and its liquid into the centre. Do not push or force the juice through the cloth. Loosely cover the cloth from dust and insects and leave to drip for at least 12 hours. This will produce a clear liquid for your jelly.
If you are in a hurry or are not worried about the clarity of the jelly, the fruit may be pressed through a large strainer or colander, suspended over a large bowl. Discard the fruit pulp. To remove any remaining pulp, strain through a fine damp cloth suspended above a large bowl. Do not force the liquid through the cloth.
Measure the resultant liquid in a measuring cup, and for every cup of liquid, add one cup of sugar. Slowly bring to the boil ensuring that all of the sugar is dissolved before it reaches boiling point. Brush off sugar crystals from the side of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water.
When sugar is dissolved, boil rapidly without stirring for the minimum time suggested in individual recipes ( please note: these times are only a guide, as every batch of jelly will reach jelling point at a different time depending on the ripeness of the fruit. Constant watching and testing is necessary ). Jelly should foam high in the pan and heat must be maintained without boiling over (thus the need for a large pan ).
When the jell point is reached, let the bubbles subside and lift off any scum which has appeared on the surface. Using a jug, pour the jelly in a slow stream down the side of the hot sterilized jars. Work quickly or the jelly will set in the pan. take care not to disturb the jelly in the pan too much or it will not be clear. It is also important to have a few different sizes of jars as it is undesirable to have half filled jars. Fill jars to the top; jelly will shrink slightly on cooling. seal jars when cold. It will take about 12 hours for the jelly to cool completely. Jelly, like jam will keep for about 12 months in a cool, dark place. Refrigerate after opening.
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Chutneys, Pickles, Relishes and Sauces
These are all Condiments made from vegetables, fruit, sugar spices and vinegar. With these preserves it is often necessary to secure whole spices in a muslin bag to be cooked with the preserve. The bag is discarded later.
Use good quality malt vinegar. Cheap vinegars do not contain enough acetic acid to act as a preservative. Good vinegars contain at least 4% acetic acid. Follow the same rules as for Jams and Conserves for which type of pan to use, condition of fresh produce, and bottling, sealing and storing.
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Sugar is the ingredient which preserves all our home made products and the only difference in the colour of sugar is how that colour affects the the final product.
White sugar, in its many forms of crystal (normal table sugar), castor ( a finer sugar) and loaf, is used for jams, jellies, conserves and marmalades. Brown and white sugars are used in chutneys,pickles, relishes and sauses etc. The brown or black sugar simply gives your condiments a richer colour and flavour.
If you wish to enter your Jams or Jellies into competitions where clarity is essential, there are certain tricks which will help you such as warming your sugar before adding it to the the fruit mixture. The theory behind it is that the faster the sugar dissolves, the faster the Jam or Jelly reaches jelling point, and the better looking the preserve will be. To warm sugar spread it out on a baking tray and place it in a warm oven, stirring it around to evenly distribute the heat.
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Lemon and Lime Juice
These two fruit juices are very rich in both pectin and acid and are used in many recipes to either add pectin or acid when they are lacking in some other fruit.
Marmalades are made from citrus fruits, or a combination of fruits, one of which is a citrus with the addittion of thinly sliced rind. The name Marmalade is said to come from the Portugese word for quince which is "Marmelo". Marmalade recipes suggest that the fruit be thinly sliced, water added and the fruit soaked ovenight. This process starts the softeningof the rind.
The fruit is then set to simmer with the water it was soaking in until the rind is tender. This can take from half an hour to one and a half hours. Some recipes say the pips should be tied in a muslin bag and cooked with the fruit t extract the rich pectin from within. Make sure the rind is as tender as desired before the sugar is added, because once the sugar is added, the rind will not get any more tender.
Follow the detailed instructions as for Jam making.
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