According to a French proverb, saint Anatole’s day (July 3rd) is happy jamming day. Bring out your best jam pan, preferably wide rimmed and, according to specialists, made of copper. Why? Because cooking fruit releases pectin from the cells and copper encourages the molecules to coalesce, joining together to form a web that holds all of the fruit juices together.
So, your jam, happy and fulfilled, morphs from a slurpy liquid into a glistening, jewel-toned, spreadable delight. If you don’t have a copper pot, a heavy stainless steel one will be delighted to do the job with panache and efficiency.
The secret is to use freshly picked fruit and in small amounts. Most jams are made with 1 kilo of sugar to 1 kilo of fruit or juice, if you are making jelly (aka clear jam). Don’t make big batches with more than 2 kilos of fruit to 2 kilos of sugar. Bring to the boil. And when it’s really bubbling in your cauldron, stir constantly with a large wooden spoon, solely used for jam-making, for 5 minutes, then turn the heat off.
Follow cooking time instructions carefully, otherwise you’ll end up with a small disaster like Bénédicte with her blackberry jam. Overcooking by just a minute led to a runny jam, stubbornly refusing to set.
For fruit, like strawberries or cherries, with lots of water, add the juice of 1 lemon at the end of the cooking time. This will to get the jam to set. Or, if you have a gooseberry bush in your garden, add a handful of gooseberries to the other fruit, and cook the lot together.
Skim and pour into your jars immediately. Screw the lids on and put the jars upside down on the kitchen counter for 15 minutes or more. This will sterilize your jam. When it’s cold, stick a beautiful label on each jar, complete with the type of jam and the manufacturing date, preferably printed in flamboyant Gothic style. Then, with your best pinking shears, cut circles out of one of Aunty Honorina’s old pinafores, place them on the jars, secure them with a piece of raffia, to add the finishing elegant and refined touches to your creations.
To make divine red currant, black currant or blackberry jelly, put the berries and stems in your pot, with a glass of water. Put the pot on the cooker and burst your berries but squashing them over medium heat. Remove from the heat and put them in a vegetable mill with the fine disc. Collect the juice and carefully measure it. Put 1 litre of juice with 1 kilo of sugar in your pot and follow the jam making recipe.
To make raspberry jam, put the raspberries through the vegetable mill, collect the juice and follow the jam making recipe.
Don’t forget to add that little something extra that will elevate your jam to something transcendent: vanilla, apricot kernel, ginger, lemon or orange zest, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise or other spices that will elegantly and subtly complement your jams and jellies.