Jam. Otherwise known as fruit preserve. I have vivid memories of my childhood, with my Dad growing fruit and vegetables all year round, and my Mum bottling fruit for use in pies at a later date (there were no freezers in those days). She also used to make jam. I think black currant was my favourite, maybe strawberry (who doesn’t like a strawberry?) but she also made raspberry sometimes too. Blackberries, apple and rhubarb were saved for the pies.
It’s pretty simple to make jam, you chop up the fruit (well, maybe not with blackcurrants and raspberries), pop it into a large pan, add water and sugar and heat it. After what used to seem like an interminably long time, the jam is ready to go in jars. Cover with grease proof paper secured by a rubber band, put a label with the type of jam and the date and off you go. Fruit like raspberries and strawberries don’t contain much of the secret ingredient that makes the jam set – pectin – so you have to add that. The jam doesn’t thicken otherwise. The science behind fruit preserves is that all that sugar changes the osmotic potential of the substance (ie jam) making it harder for bacteria to grow on it, thus preserving the fruit for longer.
I seem to remember Mum also making marmalade (Mary’s malady, as we were taught in school. As I recall, we were taught that it was made for Mary, Queen of Scots, when she had a cold). Maybe someone gave us a load of oranges for her to make it? Seville oranges, the traditional fruit for marmalade, wouldn’t have been common when we were kids. Of course, Mum normally bought the marmalade, probably Robinsons, they seemed to make most of the jam etc in those days. Thin or thick cut; I always liked thick cut myself. And then they started making it with lemons too.
Then there was lemon curd, which contains beaten eggs, the juice and the zest of the fruit, without the actual fruit. That was always used for lemon meringue pie. Usually served with cream or evaporated milk in our house. There was no interest in the calorific value of the food in those days. Quite rightly too, for people who had grown up doing physical work and walking miles to and from school every day, which my Mum had to do as a child. It’s only now that we are more sedentary and have cars and other vehicles in which to transport ourselves that we really need to worry about what we eat.
Mum occasionally used to make chutney too, tomato chutney, I think, although it certainly wasn’t as common as the jam making. Chutney originated in India, and wasn’t originally intended for storage, so didn’t contain as much sugar as the modern day products. In fact, if you go to a decent India restaurant, they make the chutneys fresh on a daily basis.
So here are five interesting facts about jam:
- The EU has strict rules about the amount of fruit that has to be present in any preserve calling itself jam.
- Spanish artist Joan Miro used blackberry jam as an art medium.
- Jam probably originated in the Middle East centuries ago.
- Jam has about half the calories of butter or margarine.
- Pepper jelly is becoming popular in the US.
© Susan Shirley 2016