Preserving and Bottling
The time to use your preserving and bottling skills is when fruit is plentiful and cheap. It is worth while putting by a good stock of jam and bottled fruit - fantastic for your contribution to Christmas Hampers, fetes and fairs - and a wonderful "thinking of you" gift or "thank you". Not only are home-made jams and preserves usually more economical than bought ones, but they also have a delicious flavour, and you can make many varieties which are not easy to obtain in the shops.
The first esential for jam or jelly making is perfectly sound fruit; it is better to have the fruit slightly under-ripe rather than over-ripe.
Pectin and Acid Content:
To obtain the necessary set, not only sugar, but also pectin and acid, must be present in correct proportions. Some fruits, notably strawberries, blackberries, pears, some cherries, rhubarb and also vegetable marrow, are deficient in pectin and/or acid.
To overcome this difficulty, such fruits are mixed with others rich in the eseential setting properties, such as cooking apples, gooseberries, red and black currants and lemons. Alternatively, citric or tartaric acid is sometimes used to help extract pectin from the fruit; 1/2 small teaspoon of acid is approximately equivalent to the juice of 1 lemon. Another good method is to cook a pectin extract with th fruit.
These days, powdered pectin is readily available in the cooking section at the supermarket, and following directions on the packet will result in a jam that sets well.
Preserving, lump or granulated sugar may be used, the usual proportion being 1 lb sugar to 1 lb of fruit. It is possible to use only 3/4 lb of sugar to 1 lb of fruit, but as the yield of jam is then less, this is not really economical.
For jelly-making, the usual proportions are 1 lb sugar to every 1 pint of the fruit juice.
Preparation and Cooking:
Pick the fruit over and prepare it according to type, then wash it quickly. Put the fruit into a preserving pan or large, strong saucepan, add water as directed in the recipe, and simmer gently until it is quite tender. The time will vary according to the fruit - tough-skinned ones such as gooseberries, blackcurrants, plums, etc. will take 1/2 - 3/4 hour. Remove the pan from the heat and add the sugar, stir well until this has dissolved, then return the pan to the heat and boil rapidly, stirring constantly, until the jam sets when tested - see below.
Testing for a Set: Use one of the below methods:
The Temperature Test:
This is the most accurate, because the result can be seen clearly andimmediately. Stir jam well, so that the temperature is even and place a sugar-boiling thermometer well into it. Provided that sufficient acid and sugar are present, a good set should be obtained when the jam reaches 221°F. Occasionally 1°F above or below this temperature. Combine this test with the following one.
The Flake Test:
Stir the jam with a wooden spoon, then turn the spoon in tehhand to cool it a little and allow the jam to drop. If it has been boiled long enough, it will partly set on the spoon, and drops will run together to form flakes which fall off the spoon.
The Saucer Test:
Put a very little of the jam on to a cold saucer or plate, allow it to cool, then push the finger across the top of the jam. The surface should wrinkle. (The pan should be removed from the heat during this test or it may boil too long).
Although the bitter Seville orange makes the most popular basis for marmalade, any citrus fruit - or a combination - may be used. The same basic principles apply in making marmalade as for jam, and a correct concentration of sugar, acid and pectin is necessary if a satisfactory set is to be obtained.
Since the peel of citrus fruits is tough, a considerable cooking time must be allowed to soften it. This necessitates the use of quite a large proportion of water, about half of which should be reduced by evaporation during the cooking period. (Failure to reduce the liquid sufficiently at this stage is oneof the most frequent causes of a set not being obtained after the sugar is added).
The time required to soften the peel may be somewhat shorted by soaking the fruit overnight but the saving in time and fuel is slight.
The peel may be shredded by hand or by machine, or by a special marmalade cutter.
After the addition of the sugar, the marmalade should be boiled rapidly until a set is obtained (test as for jam). Shred marmalade should cool 10-15 minutes, so that the preserve is thick enough to support the peel and to prevent it from rising to the top of the jars.
Back to Conserves And Preserves from Preserving And Bottling