It’s over, gone, done & dusted for another year. Luckily as we mourn the loss of a summer that never truly came to be, we enter a season that I’m just as fond of, Autumn.
The beginning of Autumn signals three things for me… firstly pumpkins, everything from cakes, pies & muffins to overpriced hot beverages (seriously for £3.50 I want it served in an actual pumpkin!). Secondly, jam. It’s time to say one last farewell to summer & hold on to as much of the season as possible, preserving what I can of its colourful fruits into jars ready to be enjoyed & bring joyous hints of sunshine to my breakfast (or any other meal where it’s socially acceptable to eat jam). Lastly (& don’t hate me), the countdown to Christmas begins. Holidays are over, nights are drawing in & as much as I like Halloween, the next thing I now have to look forward to is the festive season.
Luckily for me two of these events go hand in hand quite nicely. For every jar of jam or chutney that I make can be stowed away to be given as gifts to friends & family at Christmas. This year is no exception. Since about June of this year I’ve patiently been combing the garden waiting for the opportune moment to pick its fruits. I’m no expert gardener (yet) but thankfully nature does the hard work for me.
I’ve been stockpiling my wild strawberries, blackcurrants, raspberries, blackberries & grapes. Slowly but surely my freezer has been taken over & become partially stained with fruit. As each fruit reaches it’s best during differing months or weeks throughout the summer, it’s been a waiting game for the last pick of the bunch, the grapes, which are usually ready towards the end of September.
Quantities vary each year but I can assure you that summer fruits make for a fantastic jam regardless of the proportion of each fruit. Mixed fruit jam is a great all-rounder. You can enjoy it on toast, crumpets, in porridge or cereal, in a jam tart or with afternoon tea, it’s thoroughly flexible. The sweet berry taste works well with everything & it’s a flavour that appeals to most people, both young & old (perfect for gifting).
I prefer my jam with a high fruit content, with all of it glorious plump berries & seeds throughout so I tend not to strain my jam. I take great pleasure in spreading this brightly hued, fruit filled treat on my toast, always saving the corners with the largest pieces of fruit for the very last bite (a childhood habit that I never really grew out of).
As a bit of a jam fiend (yes, there’s a dedicated jam shelf in my fridge), I fear my 15 or so jars won’t last all that long, certainly not until next summer. However, jam is so simple to make & such a forgiving recipe, unlike cake or bread that hasn’t quite gone to plan, jam can easily be rescued in most cases so I’m certain these won’t be the last jars of the year.
Jam was created , like many of the treats we enjoy today, as a means of preserving food for possible times of scarcity. The first recipe for jam actually appears in the first known cookbook, De Re Coquinaria (The Art of Cooking – oh how I love the Romans!) , dating back to the 1st century AD. A simple recipe of soft fruits heated with sugar or honey & then stored. Amazingly, not much has changed since then except that jam is no longer something consumed out of necessity but as a treat, a little something special with breakfast or the crowning glory to a freshly baked scone at afternoon tea.
So whether you’re preparing for the apocalypse or, like me, simply can’t imagine a life without this sticky, sweet preserve at breakfast, you can’t go much wrong with this recipe.
SUMMER GARDEN JAM
(makes around 3l of jam)
- 1035g blackcurrants
- 300g wild strawberries
- 50g raspberries
- 725g blackberries
- 220g grapes
- 2330g granulated sugar
- Juice of 2 lemons
- Knob of butter
- Before beginning, place a small saucer into the freezer to chill
- Tip the fruit, sugar & lemon juice into a maslin pan or large heavy bottomed saucepan
- Gently heat the fruit & sugar on low heat until the fruit begins to break down & the sugar has completely dissolved
- Add a sugar thermometer to the pan & bring the mixture to the boil
- Continue to boil the mixture until it reaches 102°C on the thermometer (about 15 minutes)
- Test to see if setting point has been reached by placing a small drop of the jam onto the chilled saucer
- Push your finger through the jam & if the surface wrinkles, it’s done. If not continue cooking for a further a few minutes & test again
- Leave the jam to cool for about 10 minutes
- Add the knob of butter to the jam & stir through to help clear any scum on the surface of the mixture
- Pot up into clean, sterilised jars & label