Stuck in the jam

CONSERVE YOUR ENERGY: The sweet sweet science of jam making raises many burning questions for the unwary.
CONSERVE YOUR ENERGY: The sweet sweet science of jam making raises many burning questions for the unwary.

It’s easy to forget we’re governed by seasons, and even easier to lose sight of what we’re supposed to make during those seasons. Or rather how.

Take jam for example. Nan used to be so good at  making it when the various fruits came into season. But unlike Nan, the jam-making skill didn’t pass on when she did, leaving later generations  prey to suggestions any fool can do it.

Fast forward to last Saturday, we walked into a veritable fruit-nado at the local grocer.

Trays of not only strawberrys 16 punnets strong, but blueberries similarly laden, clearly in season and being sold for a song. So we loaded up, high on economies of scale, low on what we were going to do with the tonnage when we got home. 

We talk a good cottage industry but the realities of village life soon became apparent.

First there was a lot of shuffling in the fridge to make room for the bulk berries in order to stave off the mass decomposition we figured was coming as surely as the realisation we didn’t have enought room in the fridge. So serious  was the shuffling, the beer got booted out.

To justify this drastic action, there was then a lot of re-calculating about how much  money we’d save  by buying  in bulk, because that made us feel better than the idea  most of the berries might end in the compost bin if we didn’t act quick.  

Cue the move into preserving mode: first our dignity, then the berries – into bags in the  freezer; into coolies, whatever they are; and finally into jams – ye olde, tricky, artform. The only thing driving me on at that stage was the promise that we could stonker ourselves on strawberry leftover daiquiris (or warm beer) at the end.

Nan was never too much into daiquiris but she once killed a six-foot carpet snake with an axe, and she sure could jam. And on face value, jammin’ sounds so easy – boil bulk fruit, add horrendous amount of sugar, bask in river cottage delight. Or insulin shock, whatever hits first.

The reality in our case was heaving strawberry swill leading to heated debate over the cooktop about why  jam doesn’t set as reliably as Jamie, or Nigella, or Nan insist,  but rather splatters like molten lava onto any exposed parts of your body. Timeless questions were asked about pectin, thermometers, preserving sugar and what constitutes cheating when it comes to making jam. The answer being, nothing, if it makes your jam set.

There was drama over bunson and burning and how when you combine the two with jam you get toffee on the bottom of your saucepan. Or rather the metallic taste of burnt sugar, which is not like mulberry at all, as one party in the literal heat of stirring battle tried to suggest, having urged we burn past the point of no return when the thermometer wouldn’t push up to the magic 105 degree celcius mark, where apparently the jam  fairy does its setting magic. 

The end result was four jars of intensely sweet slop. Not jam as such, but potentially a very handy base for strawberry dacquiris.  Not a bad thing to stew on as we move out of the jam season, and into the cricket.