All about Show cooking

Posts tagged ‘#preserves’

Fig and Ginger Jam

I bought some excellent figs at the Brookfield Markets from Sunrise Strawberries from Stanthorpe, who have beautiful figs and strawberries at their stall at the Market, which is held every fortnight at the Brookfield Show Ground. Tempted as I was just to eat them, I decided to make fig and ginger jam, which is superb with cheese, particularly blue cheese. I already have a fig jam recipe on this site, so I won’t repeat the method in detail, but here is the short version of how to make it, which is very easy.

Take a minimum of 500g figs, ripe but not overripe, and chop into quarters. You can go smaller if you wish. Place figs in a bowl and cover with an equal amount of sugar. Add approximately two tablespoons of prepared ginger pieces in syrup, finely chopped. This is a great product (from Buderim Ginger), which really adds to the flavour of the jam.
Leave 3-4 hours until the sugar “dissolves” and the figs disgorge some of their liquid. You shouldn’t be able to see the white sugar anymore. Place into a large pot to make the jam, and add juice of a lemon or lime. I used two limes as they are in season and limes are smaller than lemons. The acid in the citrus is important to get the jam to set. If your figs are a little overripe, I would add a little more lemon or lime juice. Don’t add any water to the mixture with this method.

Bring slowly to the boil, making sure that all of the sugar is properly dissolved before the mixture boils. Once it boils, the jam will jell quickly as there is very little liquid to evaporate, so watch it carefully that it doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pan. This isn’t a jam mixture to walk away from!
As soon as the mixture is at the setting point, take it off the heat and allow to settle in the pan for 5 or so minutes. Pour into prepared, heated jars, and seal immediately. I find if you have properly sterilised the jars, this jam keeps until the next Autumn when you are ready to do it again, but be sure to store it in the fridge once opened. Enjoy!


Spiced Pear Paste


I bought some great pears at the local farmers’ market a week ago, and decided to make spiced pear paste which is delicious with cheese. It was incredibly easy to make.


600g pears, finely chopped or processed (around 500g peeled and cored)
500g sugar
Juice of a large lemon or lime
Spices of your choice, I used a piece of cinnamon stick, six cloves and a small piece of star anise – all wrapped in a muslin, or use a pinch of each spice straight into the pan

Place the pears in a large pan with the sugar, spices and juice, and heat until the sugar is dissolved. If the pears were chopped instead of processed, mash them down at this point. Bring to the boil and allow to cook until the mixture thickens and darkens. This will take around 10 minutes, but watch it carefully as mine started to catch on the bottom. When slightly cooled (but only a few minutes or it will set in the pan), pour the paste into small jars or into a pan lined with paper and cut into squares. If you want to keep it for any length of time, sealed jars are the best choice.

Guava Jelly


It’s guava season, and making guava jelly is a perfect way to use up a huge crop if you have a tree in the back yard. Unfortunately the possums got to my tree before I did, and the ground was littered with guavas with one bite taken out, but I did manage to salvage enough for a batch of guava jelly. Guava jelly is delicious with roast pork, or eaten on its own as a preserve as you would a jam. It is also superb with cheese, particularly blue vein.


To make guava jelly you will need guavas (I had around 12 smallish guavas), sugar, water, and either some limes or lemons. Chop the guavas roughly, and place in a pan, just covering them with water.

Bring to the boil and simmer, with the lid on, for around half an hour. Strain through a cloth in a sieve for a couple of hours at least, preferably overnight. Important, do not press down or squeeze the fruit while doing this, allow the juice to slowly drip out.

After all of the liquid has dripped out, you need to test for the pectin content. Take one teaspoon of the liquid and mix with three teaspoons mentholated spirits in a glass, and tip onto a saucer. If there is one large clot, your mixture is strong in pectin, and you can add sugar cup for cup. If it has several clots (like I had, see below), add 3/4 cup of sugar to each cup of liquid. In the end I had three cups of liquid, and added three X 3/4 cups of sugar.

At this point, put the sterilised glass jars you are going to use in the oven on low heat, around 130 degrees, as well as a pouring jug (I use a glass oven-proof one). Add a candy thermometer to the pan if you have one, and slowly bring the mixture to the boil, ensuring that the sugar is fully dissolved before the mixture boils. Add the strained juice of two limes or one lemon. You will need to adjust the amount for your own quantity, but the proportion is around two tablespoons or lemon or lime juice to two cups of sugar. Lime juice is best with guava jelly if you have it.

Allow to boil until it gets to jelling point, which will be pretty fast. Mine took only 10-15 minutes. If you have a themometer, jelling point is 104 degrees, or you can use the spoon or saucer tests, which I have described in other preserves recipes. The other way in which you can tell is the smell, which changes at the end (it will smell amazingly good!), and the bubbles which get larger and start spitting – see picture.

Take the jelly off the heat, and prepare your jars. Pour relatively quickly into the prepared jars, or it will set in the pan, which you don’t want to happen! Pour slowly down the side of the jars, and seal immediately. My batch made one and a half jars, which was OK, considering I had shared most of the fruit with the possums in my back yard!

Microwave Cumquat Marmalade


Warning: For any preserves purists, look away now!

It’s late winter, and we are full on into the citrus season, with lemons falling on the ground, and the Seville oranges ready in a few weeks. Over the past few years we have been cycling through drought and then too much rain which is playing havoc with my fruit trees, but this year there were just enough cumquats to make marmalade, although the quality wasn’t great. I was toying with using them for marmalade, knowing that it wouldn’t work out well due to too much rain (always a killer for jams and marmalades setting), and spotty fruit. Right on cue, my sister rang, excited having tried her first ever batch of jam, which happened to be cumquat, and made in the microwave. Intrigued, I thought it might be worth the experiment, as a small amount of fruit wasn’t going to work out well, together with everything else. Happily, I got a great result, and here is the recipe, adapted from the original Australian Womens Weekly Microwave Cookbook, circa 1986.

The beauty of using the microwave is that no overnight soaking or pre-cooking is required, making the process much quicker and cleaner. Not recommended for show cooking, but if you have a small batch and want to get a quick result, this might just be worth trying!

500g Cumquats, de-seeded and cut into quarters
1 1/2 cups water
3 cups sugar


Add the water to the cumquats in a microwave proof dish (mine was about 3 litres), and microwave on high for 10 minutes until the cumquats are cooked and the rind tender. Add the sugar and stir well, so that the sugar dissolves before you boil the mix. Microwave on high until the mixture jells, and the marmalade “sheets” off the spoon (see other posts on cooking jams and marmalades to see what this means). This took around 25-30 minutes. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then bottle and seal immediately.

Fig Jam


Figs are still available in the shops in late Autumn, and they can make fantastic jam. I also like to make fig and ginger jam, as it is superb eaten with cheese, especially brie, camembert, and blue vein. Match made in heaven!

Figs are an unusual fruit, as they are inside out. They are one of the earliest fruits, and feature in the Bible and many early writings. I think they make an outstanding jam, but it isn’t exactly economical to make! It is also notoriously fickle, and has a nasty habit of burning on the bottom of the pan. Luckily burnt fig jam is another sub-genre, and pretty good too!




Trim the top off the figs and cut into quarters. Sprinkle with sugar, the same weight as the figs, and leave overnight, or at least 4-5 hours so that they disgorge all of their liquid.

Place in a pan with the strained juice of one or two lemons (depending on the weight of the figs – for a large batch use two lemons), and ensure that the sugar is fully dissolved before you bring the mixture to the boil.


Once the sugar is dissolved, boil rapidly until the jam reaches the set point (104 degrees C). Either use a sugar thermometer (highly recommended), use the “wrinkle test” (place a small teaspoon of jam on a plate, and draw your finger through – if the jam wrinkles and holds it shape, it is done); watch for it “sheeting” off the spoon; or look for changes to look and feel and smell, in particular the bubbles will get much bigger, the mixture will try to boil over, and it will send up a some spits.

Fig jam will jell quite quickly, particularly using this method, and needs to be carefully watched and frequently stirred. If it does stick to the bottom and burn, you can still save the mixture by not stirring in the burned bits from the bottom.


Once the jam has jelled, take it immediately off the heat, wait five minutes and bottle immediately into heated, sterilised jars (see Orange Marmalade recipe for how to do this). Lid immediately.

Hint – pans and jam making equipment are easy to clean when soaked in cold water – just rinse off, and no detergent or further washing required. Same with any spills on the stove, just soak in cold water and wipe straight off. As with all preserves, the hot mix is very dangerous and can cause very nasty burns. Never make jam with little children around, and always wear oven mits, and take care when handling the mixture.

Sweet orange marmalade


Orange marmalade is one of the most popular preserves, and one of the easiest to make, however as with all marmalades, there are tips and tricks to get a successful outcome. For this recipe I have used navel oranges, which are highly recommended, and will give the best outcome. I also grow Seville oranges which make an excellent marmalade, and these come into season very late and well after other winter citrus, around August/September. There are many different methods of making orange marmalade, and the one below is simple to follow and works consistently. For show work, some exhibitors make a jelly marmalade using the squeezed juice and very thinly sliced in very fine strips, which is very difficult to jell, but spectacular when it works and the fine strips of orange skin are suspended in the jelly.

For this recipe I used five oranges, the juice of one lemon, and sugar, lots of sugar. Apart from taste, sugar is a preserving agent, and an important part of the chemical process which sets a jam, jelly or marmalade. Getting a preserve to set is a magical combination of sugar, acid and pectin, which in the right combination, and at the right temperature, sets to give jams and marmalades that distinctive texture or jell. With a sweet orange marmalade, the juice of a lemon will often be necessary to provide the necessary acid.



Top and tail the oranges, cut in half or quarters lengthwise, and slice the oranges as thinly as possible. Place in a bowl and cover with water. I do this by feel and experience, and there is not specific amount of water. Bear in mind that a lot of the liquid will be boiled off.

Soak the oranges in the water overnight or for at least four to five hours. If you are using oranges with seeds (naval oranges don’t normally have seeds), these need to be removed and soaked separately in a small container to remove the pectin. Strain the seeds after soaking, and add the liquid to the rest of the mixture.


After soaking, boil the orange slices, uncovered, for one hour. This is an important step, and is needed to ensure that the orange slices will be tender.

After cooking, test the mixture for pectin content, the amount of which determines the amount of sugar to be added. To do this, add one teaspoon of the cooked orange liquid to three teaspoons of methylated spirits, and tip onto a plate. If there is one big clot of the fruit mixture, you can add the sugar cup for cup. If there are smaller clots (see picture), add 3/4 sugar per cup of fruit mixture. If there are no clots, you have a problem and are unlikely to get the marmalade to set. Add more lemon than you otherwise would to give it a chance of setting.

After adding the sugar, put back on the heat, but ensure that all of the sugar is fully dissolved before it boils. If you have a candy thermometer (strongly recommended), add it now.


Once the sugar is dissolved, boil rapidly until the marmalade jells. This will take approximately 20 minutes.

As the marmalade approaches the setting point (104 degrees Celsius), the bubbles will change and you will see a rolling boil. It will also send up the occasional spit. At this point, being testing for jelling, and also keep stirring to prevent the marmalade from sticking to the bottom and edges of the pan.


Once the marmalade is set, remove from the heat, and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

Pour into heated, sterilised bottles (after sterilisation, heat for 15- 20 minutes in the oven at 150 degrees), then lid immediately.


Cookery judging myths and misconceptions

Brother Howard judging the preserves section, Brookfield Show

Brother Howard judging the preserves section, Brookfield Show

At every Show we get a lot of questions about the judging process in the Cookery. So here are some commonly asked questions including myths and misconceptions, and the answers you have been seeking!

Do the judges taste everything?

It is a persistent urban myth that the judges don’t taste all of the entries, and I get asked about this many times a year. In fact, the judges taste each and every entry, unless there is some reason not to, for example, there was mould present in the jam when opened (which happens occasionally). In fact once when we opened the lid on a preserve for judging, a cockroach flew out, but that’s another story!

With the preserves, the judge takes a small amount with a spoon from the side of the jar. With the cakes, unless the cake is in the decorated cakes section (these are judged on appearance only), the cake is cut in half, and a small wedge cut off one side, including the icing (if any). With biscuits, slices, small cakes and the like, the judge takes a small piece off one item for tasting.

What are the judges looking for?

The judge looks for colour, texture, uniformity (with small cakes or slices), and a great flavour which is appropriate to the item being judged. With cakes, the texture should be even throughout with no or very few trapped air bubbles or under or overcooking evident. If for example it is an orange cake section, the judge will be looking for a strong orange flavour, and good mouthfeel. A cake should be moist, but not overly so, and how moist will depend on the variety. The judge will be able to tell straight away that it has been properly cooked, and that quality ingredients have been used.

With preserves, the judge is again looking for flavour and texture. A proper set is important for jams, marmalades and jellies, but sometimes great flavour can overcome a preserve which may not be perfectly set. Ideally jellies and marmalades should be perfectly clear and glistening. Chutneys and relishes should be perfectly cooked, reflect their variety, and be of the appropriate texture so that they can be easily spooned out and are not too runny. Any overcooked preserves will be rejected by the judges, who can tell straight away by appearance and taste. The judge can also tell straight away (by taste and texture) if you have used an artificial jam setting product, and this is frowned up in Show work.

Is judging anonymous?

Absolutely! The judge never knows whose entry they have in front of them, as all judging is done anonymously.

Why do the same people win prizes year after year?

This does happen (but not as often as you think), and is not because the judge knows who entered the exhibit. The same people win prizes because they are very experienced, and know what the judges are looking for. You can get the same results by entering, learning from your mistakes, and knowing how to win prizes. This can be a lot quicker than you think!

Jams, jellies and marmalades

preserves jars on display

Entering the Preserves section of a Show can be one of the most daunting, frustrating and rewarding experiences you can have in cooking. But making the perfect clear glistening jelly or marmalade an is an incredibly satisfying experience. Getting it to set properly is another story, which will be the subject of another post! Ultimately, the only way to succeed in the Preserves section is practice, practice, practice, and to learn by your mistakes.
• For jam making, cut fruit evenly, don’t over boil. Use a candy thermometer (available at kitchen shops) for more accurate cooking to test for jelling point. A thermometer is much better than guesswork for Show work. Even then, you need to use your judgment
• Cut fruit for marmalade as finely as possible for Show work. Marmalade should be clear, with fruit evenly suspended. After soaking fruit overnight, cook thoroughly before adding sugar. This is absolutely critical. Most recipes specify an hour cooking before adding sugar to marmalade.
• For jelly making, after fruit has cooked, allow to drip through jelly bag overnight, without squeezing. Jelly should be completely clear and properly set.
• Ensure that jars are properly sterilized before use. Clean in dishwasher if possible, and then thoroughly sterilise before using. Use oven mits to avoid burns with hot jars and preserves.
• Put lids on jars immediately after filling with preserves to inhibit moulds. Store carefully – in the fridge if necessary.
• Make chutneys a month or two ahead of time if possible to allow flavours to develop. This is a common reason why otherwise great chutneys don’t make it to the winner’s circle. If you make it the day before the Show, unfortunately it will taste like it.
• Jam, jelly and marmalade making is often a frustrating experience. Sometimes the fruit is overripe, there was too much rain before the fruit was picked and not enough pectin in the fruit, or it just doesn’t work out. It happens to everyone, and sometimes when it doesn’t jell, it’s nothing to do with the skill of the cook. If instead of a jam you have a runny sauce, your family might appreciate a nice dessert sauce instead!

Apricot Jam


It’s the end of stone fruit season, and there is just time to make jam with some fabulous summer fruit! This recipe is very similar to that used for plum or fig jam, and the same principles apply. Although there are several ways of making apricot jam, my favourite technique is using the sugaring method, which I am describing below. It produces a great result, although apricot jam is very fickle, and it’s all too easy to make Burnt Apricot Jam instead. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not exactly Show material! This is a simple recipe, but good, and the resulting jam has a lovely sweet and tart flavour in equal parts, and lasts well.

Ingredients are apricots, water, and a lemon.

Take a quantity of apricots, preferably just ripe – I used 800 grams. If they are too ripe the jam won’t jell, and I will deal with the reasons for this in a separate post. Then cut the apricots in halves or quarters, and take out the stones. You can also peel them (scald in boiling water), but I don’t normally do this. Then take an equal amount of sugar, and sprinkle the half the sugar over the cut apricots in layers. Leave overnight, or at least 4-6 hours. By then the apricots should render a lot of juice. Add the apricots to a preserving pan with the remainder of the sugar, and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strained juice of one lemon; more if you increase the quantity of apricots. The mixture mustn’t be allowed to boil until the sugar is all dissolved and if necessary, add a little water to assist the process – I added around a cup as the mixture was too thick, and wouldn’t have had time to boil enough before jelling. Stir with a wooden spoon during this part of the process. Allow to come to jelling point, and test for setting point either with a jelly thermometer (104 degrees), or if the mixture “sheets” off the wooden spoon, or wrinkles when cooled on a plate and a finger is run through. Apricot jam will suddenly jell, so watch carefully after around 15-20 minutes. It also has a tendency to burn, so watch carefully for this, and stir frequently. The time taken to jell will be somewhere around 20 minutes, depending on your quantity of apricots, and a few other factors including how quickly it is boiled.
Bottle immediately into hot, sterilised jars, and lid straight away.

All in all, my 800 grams of apricots made just over two jars of jam. Perhaps not the most economical, but a delicious result, and apricots, figs and plums make outstanding jam.