Did I mention that it’s hot here? And no sign of it abating either – I keep looking hopefully at the BBC weather programme, but they are just forecasting warmer and warmer temperatures. It’s supposed to be cooling down, not getting hotter. Someone tell these weather guys it’s September for goodness sake.
Here’s Mr Patch dealing with the hot weather. He’s found himself a breezy spot on the kitchen window sill and he’s been there since about 30 seconds after he finished his breakfast this morning. He clearly has no intention of leaving this spot until tea-time. I’m quite tempted to join him.
Instead, I have foolishly decided to make myself even hotter by boiling some jam. Now, one of the things Turkish ladies don’t seem to be able to master is making jam, which is a shame because we have wonderful fruit. What they call jam is actually heavily-sugared syrup with usually unidentifiable lumps floating about in it. It really is truly revolting and one spoonful of the stuff is enough to put you into a permanent diabetic coma. There is one supermarket here that has finally copped on and now makes what it calls ‘extra’ jam, with a much higher fruit-to-sugar ratio than the other stuff, but they still haven’t got that jammy texture nailed down and they charge an outrageous amount of money for it.
Now I do put more sugar in my jam than I would actually like, if it were a perfect world. But I am afraid, without the artificial additives used in commercial preserves, it just doesn’t keep for very long if you put less sugar in it. As we only have fruit in season, it means we would be jam-less for most of the year if I stuck to my high-fruit recipe, so we just have to poke up with having a little more sugar.
If you’ve never made jam before, you need to understand a little about pectin – this is the naturally-occurring, soluble, complex sugar in fruit that makes jam set. Some fruit has it in spades, some has very little. As a rule of thumb – which is weird since pectin is actually a sugar, but there’s nature for you – most sour or acidic-tasting fruits seem to have the most. Apples, pears, quinces, oranges, lemons, guavas and plums are all high in pectin, while soft fruits like apricots, strawberries and figs need a bit of help in this department. Now that does not necessarily mean reaching for the ‘jam sugar’, which has added pectin and which you can buy in most British supermarkets (not sure about elsewhere, sorry). I prefer to just add lemon juice or mix a high-pectin fruit with one that has little pectin – plum and fig is a perfect example. If you are making something like apricot or strawberry jam, the lemon juice does offset the sweetness a little too. If you use this recipe for soft fruit only, add one tablespoon of lemon juice for every 500g of fruit.
I’ve used this jam recipe for years and have most often used it for apricots – our friend has an apricot orchard and she literally gives us buckets of them every June – and for a strawberry and cherry mix, which is my favourite. However, one time I used the recipe for a jam made only with plums and didn’t think to exclude the lemon juice. It set like concrete and we literally could not get it out of the jars, so it all had to be thrown away – so do bear in mind the pectin factor when planning your jam.
The other thing you need to know about is ‘setting point’. This sounds terribly technical, but all it means is the point at which the jam has reached the right temperature and the right amount of reduction (from evaporation while it cooks) to actually set. The complication is that jam doesn’t set until it is cold, so we solve that issue by putting a plate in the freezer before we start and you just put a teaspoon or so of the jam on the cold plate, leave it a few seconds and then push it with your finger. If the jam wrinkles, it’s ready, if it doesn’t, give it another five minutes, then test again. I tried to photograph this, but just couldn’t get the photo to show the wrinkle. Luckily, lots of other, much more accomplished, photographers have managed it – click here to see some examples.
For today’s fig and plum jam recipe, we won’t need to add anything extra, as the plums have enough pectin to do the job. This jam is known in our household as ‘pig ‘n’ plum’. This is because our friend Sue McGowan once got her tongue twisted when I gave her a jar of this to try, and the name stuck, so it’s been ‘pig ‘n’ plum’ ever since.
Here’s the recipe – do try it, it’s so easy and you won’t want to go back to supermarket jam once you have. If you only want to try with a small batch, by all means just halve the quantities.
Fig & plum preserves (aka ‘pig ‘n’ plum’ ©Susan McGowan)
This recipe makes approximately 8 x 500g jars
You will need:
– a very large saucepan (don’t fill it more than half full or you’ll be cleaning your stove…)
– clean empty jam jars with lids
– a jam funnel is useful if you have one
– a heat-proof jug for filling the jars (Pyrex is fine)
1 kilo plums
1 kilo figs (if they are very expensive, just use more plums and fewer figs)
2 kilos sugar
About 1 teaspoon butter
Note: When your jam is nearly ready, you will need to sterilise your jars. You can either do this by running them through a hot cycle in the dishwasher and using them while they are still very hot, or just wash them in hot soapy water, rinse well, place on a baking tray and put into a 100C oven for ten to 15 minutes. You must fill the jars while they are hot or the glass may crack when you pour in the hot jam.
A few hours (or the day before) you want to cook the jam, cut all the fruit into approx 1cm dice (stone the plums first, obviously) and put them into the saucepan with the sugar.
If the weather is very warm and you are leaving the fruit overnight, put this in the fridge or the fruit may start to ferment. Pre-soaking in the sugar helps the fruit pieces to retain some shape and also mostly dissolves the sugar before you heat it, which helps to stop crystals forming in the pan. If you are making this with soft fruit like apricots or strawberries, add the lemon juice at this point too.
When you are ready to cook the jam, put a small plate into the freezer.
Heat the fruit and sugar over a gentle heat until you are sure that all of the sugar has turned to liquid – use a spatula or your wooden spoon to scrape down any crystals that have formed on the edges of the pan. Once the sugar has all dissolved, you can turn up the heat a little and let the fruit come to the boil. Once it is boiling, turn down and simmer (uncovered) for about 15 minutes to cook the fruit.
At this point you will need to sterilise your jars – see note above.
Turn the heat up to medium (you don’t want it to boil over, so keep an eye on it) and boil fairly rapidly for about ten minutes.
Remove the plate from the freezer and put a little of the jam on the plate – allow to cool for half a minute, then push the jam with your finger. If the top has formed a skin which wrinkles when pushed (see here for what this should look like), then the jam is ready. If it does not wrinkle, turn up the heat again and boil for another five minutes, then test again, repeating if necessary. Mine took 20 minutes in total.
When the jam is ready, turn off the heat and add a few little pieces of butter – about a teaspoon in total. Stir this into the jam and you will see the scum on the top will magically disappear.
Add a few flakes of butter…
Leave the jam for a few minutes so that it is not actually absolutely boiling hot, then ladle into the heatproof jug and pour into your hot sterilised jars – sorry for repeating myself, but they must be hot, or the glass may crack on contact with the hot jam and that’s pretty messy (yes, yes, got that particular tee-shirt and done lots of cleaning up of boiled over jam on stove – I am now more careful). A jar funnel does make this process a bit safer.
If you are in the UK and you can get those little discs of greaseproof paper that seal the top of the jam, by all means use them (you can get them in most big supermarkets or at John Lewis or Lakeland). If you don’t live in the UK, you could make your own by cutting baking paper into discs. Or you can be totally lazy like me, and just not bother, in which case put the lids on while the jam is still very hot and make sure no jam is in contact with the metal bit inside the lid (most jam jar lids are covered in a layer of plastic these days, in any case).
The jam is ready to eat immediately, once cool. This particular jam is extremely good with scones and a bit of clotted cream (no calories there then).