All about Show cooking

Posts tagged ‘#preserves’

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!

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Apricot Jam

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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.
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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.