Tuesday, 27 September 2016

a manifesto for preserving + a recipe for raspberry chambord jam

raspberry and bayleaf 
it is not enough for jam to just be sweet. a good jam is one where the fruit tastes more of itself, making it a true expression of the word preserve for jam is really the essence of a season in a jar. this is true even in this time of plenty when one can get strawberries in winter and oranges in summer. there is nothing quite like the taste of strawberries in high summer, when their plump little bodies and scarlet flesh is sweet with sunshine. or bright skinned oranges on a damp winter day that gently perfume the air around the fruit bowl. fruit outside its season is a fraction of its flavour, much like a watered down memory, scant on detail.

what started with curiosity and a kitchen experiment has become a craft, so that there are several jars of each season in the cupboard and on the kitchen shelves. i was initially guided by preserving recipes particularly those of diana henry, jane grigson and nigel slater. however, the making of many small batches coupled with certificates for my marmalade have meant that recipes have become inspirations rather than guidance. i have mixed and matched techniques, borrowing heavily from cooks whose ethos echoes my experience of preserving. i have arrived at a formula that has emerged from the making of many a small batch. i have added voices of advice that i had found useful, but ultimately jam is as much about method as it is about creativity. what delights me most about it is how it carries flavours. it revitalised my relationship with spices, adding new ones alongside old classics like vanilla.

there is so little that goes into the making of jam – fruit, sugar and perhaps some spice, that it is imperative to get the best of the best.

jam should always be made with fruit in its season. as a general rule, marmalade is a winter preserve, soft berries should be jammed in summer and stone fruits like peaches and plums are at their best in autumn. jam is best made with just ripe and very good quality fruit. this is because over ripe fruit is not as rich in pectin, that magical chemical that helps jam become itself. pectin occurs naturally in fruit (although in variable degrees) and those lower in pectin need to be helped along usually with some manner of citrus or apples. i am against adding pectin to help a jam set. instead, i use lemon juice to encourage a fruits own setting agent. i perceive the set of a jam as an extension of its nature. a runnier jam simply shows that a fruit has less pectin.

to start, wash the fruit gently discarding any that have been acquainted with rots and worms. apricots and plums need only be halved. peaches are best quartered and soft fruits like strawberries should be left whole. maintain character by working fruit as little as possible. soft fruits like raspberries and blackberries have seeds. i think of these as texture and therefore do not believe in straining them. i do not peel my stone fruits as the fleshy skins caramelise and add a leathery bite to the jam.

next, allow your fruit to relax in a bath of sugar. the relationship is such that it will coax flavour, as sugar encourages juicy conversation. maceration is how fruit comes to taste of itself which why i macerate my fruit overnight. play around with the ratio of sugar to fruit. you need enough to preserve its life (unless you are making what diana henry calls ‘nearly jam’) but not so much that the taste is one dimension of sweet. work with the flavour of the fruit. some berries are tart so try to retain that sharpness as a back note. the same can be said of stone fruits like plums and peaches. soft and somewhat nursery like fruits do well with lemon or lime to cut through the mellowness. as a general rule, i tend to use a little over half the weight of the fruit in sugar. pure white sugar leads to jam in jewel like colours. brown sugars bring a toffee like depth but will mute the colour and brightness of the jam.

now, think of a spice or a liqueur that compliments the fruit. i have steadfast favourites like pale green cardamom pods and tiny expensive strands of saffron. these speak to my pakistani heritage. cardamom has a delicate fragrance and freshness like mint. saffron is smoky and the colour of marigold. hardier spices like cinnamon, bay leaves and thyme speak to my european heritage. they pair well with autumn and winter fruits that take on the woodier notes easily. flower waters and loose leaf herbal teas are recent additions. exercise caution when using these as too much floral essence can make a preserve soapy. use a muslin to infuse a jam with herbs or tea, making sure to wring out the essence at the end of the boiling. i also like using liqueurs and spirts to round flavours. vodka and scotch have an affinity for marmalade. cassis compliments blackberries and chambord raspberries, because of the similarity of their base fruits. i add these before bottling, when the jam is still hot but not boiling so that the flavour holds fully.

before you get to boiling the jam, have a mise en place. start by lining the countertop next to your stove with newspaper. this makes it easier to clean up. then wash your jars in with hot water. place them in a hot oven, turn the heat to 140°c and leave them to sterilise by keeping them in the oven for thirty minutes. they should still be hot when you are ready to jar the jam. have a jam funnel to hand and place half a dozen teaspoons in the freezer. decant the macerated fruit along with its muslin infusion to a large heavy bottomed pan. the larger the circumference, the quicker the moisture will escape. the pan should be fairly high to prevent the boiling jam from escaping. a heavy bottom is essential to protect the jam from burning and scorching. you will also need a long handled spoon to stir the jam.

jam becomes so with the application of heat. heat removes moisture and in doing so, concentrates flavours and sets the jam. when i first started, i used a jam thermometer to test the jam for readiness. but i quickly abandoned this in favour of intuition and a set of frozen teaspoons. i discovered that jam provides visual and acoustic clues to its readiness. the early boil causes the contents to rise and froth. this begins to subside as the moisture evaporates and a syrup begins to form with angry large bubbles that hiss and spit. i know that the jam is near setting when it has reduced to almost half and the bubbles on its surface are intermittent and sputter softly. this is when i dip a cold, frosty teaspoon into it. the jam cools instantly and is ready when it wrinkles when nudged with your finger. let the jam stand for a few minutes before ladling into the hot sterilised jam jars and screw on the cap. you will find that a natural seal will form with the heat.

here are some ideas to get you started using the trio of elements (fruit, sugar, spice) that make up the formula along with a template recipe for the raspberry and chambord jam.

peaches, white sugar, cardamom
apricot, golden sugar, saffron and cardamom
apricot, golden sugar, elderflower
plum, golden sugar, cinnamon
plum, golden sugar, balsamic
damson, golden sugar, juniper berries
strawberry, white sugar, rose petals and rose water
strawnerry, white sugar, hibiscus flower
rhubarb, golden sugar, crystallised ginger
blackberry, golden sugar, bay leaf and cassis
raspberry, golden sugar, bay leaf and chambord

{raspberry chambord jam}

500g raspberries
275g golden sugar
bay leaf
juice and zest of a lemon
2 tbsp chambord
a small knob of butter (optional

read the piece above for detailed insight into jam making.

gently wash the raspberries. place them in glass bowl along with the sugar, bay leaf, lemon zest and juice. stir very gently. cover and allow to macerate overnight.

have your mise en place when you are ready to jam (see above). place the macerated raspberries in large, heavy bottomed pan. heat on medium heat to allow any remaining sugar crystals to dissolve fully. once the sugar has dissolved bring the jam to a rapid boil. stir it from time to time to prevent it from sticking. the jam will initially rise and froth. then, as the moisture evaporates, it will bubble angrily. start testing the jam for the set when it has reduced to almost half in volume. once the jam is set, add the butter. this is optional. i like adding it because it rounds the flavour as also gives the jam a glossy look.

once the jam is set remove it from the heat and allow the boil to die down before adding the liqueur. stir to distribute evenly and then jar the jam in the hot sterilised jars.

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