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May 10, 2018
Essential for a good set, you'll need to have the right amount of pectin into your preserve to ensure it’s not runny. As a good rule of thumb, citrus fruits and sour fruits like cooking apples are high in pectin, while soft fruits like strawberries are fairly low. Pectin comes in powdered and liquid form and is widely available. You can also buy jam sugar or add lemon juice to the mixture to help it set. Follow your recipe to get a good result; you can always experiment with fruit combos and flavours, but make sure the ratio of fruit, to sugar, to pectin is stuck to!
Whether you grow your own or raid the supermarket shelves prior to preserving, it’s important to be choosy. Steer clear of soft, over ripe fruits with blemishes, opting instead for bright colour, shiny skins and firm but ripe flesh. You can store fruit in the fridge until you are ready to use it but don't cut it up in advance. Ideally make jam on the day you pick or purchase.
It's a good idea to invest in a thermometer for making jams, jellies and marmalade's, 105°C is the magic number (or 225°F for Fahrenheit fans). Follow your recipe for timings, but you should be approaching the right set when your mixture drops from a rapid to a rolling boil. Pop your thermometer (with care – at the risk of stating the obvious, it'll be blinking hot!) and when you reach 105°C you should be good to go. You can also test the set with a plate from the freezer – simply allow a blob to cool on the plate then run your finger through the liquid. If it wrinkles and doesn't flood the gap, it’s ready!
Jam, while cooking, gets extremely hot and doesn't cool quickly so take great care to protect your hands from burns – I'm sure jam aficionados will be crying 'dur!' but it pays to be cautious. It's a good idea to use a long handle spoon for stirring and a funnel for filling the jars, to save on wastage.
When you’re carefully hulling a never ending vat of strawberries or staring intensely at a thermometer willing the mercury to rise, you might find yourself asking how much a jar of jam is from the supermarket! But trust me it’s worth it. Not only is the taste of homemade preservers superior, you'll also get that brilliant feeling of contented achievement when all your finished jars are lined up and labelled. Set aside a day when you can enjoy the process at a relaxed pace, and reap the benefits in the months to come.
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