Monday, 19 October 2020

How About Some Cake?

How about a delicious homemade cake to cheer us all up? 

Who doesn’t love a slice of delicious cake and a cup of tea, even while we need to observe strict social distancing. Recently, I met a lady who confided that she had never made a cake in her entire life…she had absolutely no idea where to start, it was a complete mystery to her.

She was over the moon with delight when she baked her very first cake while she as with us here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for a class. We showed her just how easy it was to make a super delicious cake when you follow a good recipe. You can’t imagine how thrilled she was, lots of photos, beaming smiles and such a sense of achievement.


A few little tips to get started:

1. A couple of spatulas and a wooden spoon.

2. A wire rack to cool the cake when it comes out of the tin.

3. A palette knife is useful for icing but not essential.

4. Buy an accurate scales, baking is an exact science, so weigh all the ingredients meticulously

5. The finest ingredients make the best cakes, use butter, fresh free range eggs and pure vanilla extract rather than essence which was never ‘next or near’ a vanilla pod in it’s life!

For memorable cakes use chocolate or unsweetened cocoa.

Being pernickity about the quality of the ingredients will really pay dividends and result in something really gorgeous. After all, if you go to the effort of making a cake, it might as well be super delicious!


6. Choose a really good recipe from a trusted source, sounds odd but sadly not all recipes are as carefully tested as they ought to be. Then inexperienced bakers blame themselves rather than the recipe and come to the conclusion that they can’t cook.

7. Equip yourself with some basic equipment and utensils:

A few good tins, a loaf tin 1lb (8x4x3 inches) or 2lb (6x4x3 inches), 2 x 7”or 8” round tins with pop up bases and maybe 19cm round for larger cakes.

8. A food mixer is an advantage but certainly not essential but it does make the job much easier.

9. Equally a food processor is worth the investment and means a cake can be made in mere minutes.

10. A piping bag and a couple of nozzles if you want to get creative.

These few items will get you started – you can add to your baking kit as you go along.

Here is a tried and tested recipes for one of my favourite cakes.

A Classic Coffee Cake with Caramelised Walnuts




This is a splendid recipe for an old-fashioned coffee cake – the sort Mummy made…We still make it regularly and everyone loves it. I’m a real purist about using extract rather than essence in the case of vanilla, but in this cake, I prefer to use coffee essence (which is actually mostly chicory) to real coffee. I’ve used a square tin here but one could use 2 round tins.

Serves 10–12

225g (8oz) soft butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

4 organic or at least free range eggs

225g (8oz) plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon baking powder

scant 2 tablespoons Camp coffee essence



Coffee Butter Cream for filling

150g (6oz) butter

330g (12oz) icing sugar, sieved

5-6 teaspoons Camp coffee essence



Coffee Glace Icing

450g (1lb) icing sugar

scant 2 tablespoons Camp coffee essence

about 4 tablespoons boiling water



To Decorate

Caramelised Walnuts (see below) or toasted hazelnuts or chocolate covered coffee beans.


2 x 20cm (8in) round sandwich tins.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Line the base and sides of the tin with greaseproof or silicone paper. Brush the bottom and sides with melted butter and dust lightly with flour.

Beat the soft butter with a wooden spoon, add the caster sugar and beat until pale in colour and light in texture. Whisk the eggs. Add to the mixture, bit by bit, beating well between each addition.

Sieve the flour with the baking powder and stir gently into the cake mixture. Finally, add in the coffee essence and mix thoroughly.

Spoon the mixture evenly into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. When the cake is cooked, the centre will be firm and springy and the edges will have shrunk from the sides of the tin. Leave to rest in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove the greaseproof paper from the base, then flip over so the top of the cake doesn’t get marked by the wire rack. Leave the cake to cool on the wire rack.

To make the coffee butter cream, whisk the butter with the sieved icing sugar and add the coffee essence. Continue to whisk until light and fluffy.

When cold, cut the cake in half lengthwise, then cut each half horizontally creating rectangular layers, 4 in total. Sandwich each sponge layer together with ½ of the coffee butter cream, forming a loaf shaped cake. Place half of the remaining buttercream into a piping bag, fitted with a medium star shaped nozzle. Spread the sides and top of the cake thinly with the last of the butter cream and place into the fridge for 10-15 minutes to chill. This technique is called crumb coating.

Next make the Coffee Glace Icing. Sieve the icing sugar and put into a bowl. Add coffee essence and enough boiling water to make it the consistency of a thick cream (careful not to add too much water)

To Decorate:

Remove the cake from the fridge. Pour the glace icing evenly over the top of the cake, gently spreading it down the sides with a palette knife. Allow to set, 30 minutes (approx.). Decorate with piped rosettes of buttercream and garnish with the caramelized walnuts.

Caramelised Walnuts

100g (3 1/2oz) sugar

50ml (2fl oz) cold water

20 walnut halves

225ml (8fl oz) hot water

Dissolve the sugar in the cold water over a gentle heat. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved, then remove the spoon and continue to simmer until the syrup caramelises to a chestnut colour. Remove from the heat, dip the walnuts into the hot caramel, and coat each one completely using a fork. Remove to a silicone baking mat, or oiled cake tin, and allow to cool. Once all the walnuts have been coated, Pour the hot water into the saucepan and continue to cook until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is quite smooth. Reduce until it starts to thicken slightly. Allow to get cold. This sauce can be used for serving with ice-cream.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

The Wonder of Oats

October 10th is World Porridge Day, a good opportunity to remind ourselves of this inexpensive super food which comes to us in many variations – it’s basically one of the great convenience foods of the world.

Virtually every food writer and journalist who stays at Ballymaloe House raves about the porridge that they serve for breakfast with a generous drizzle of Jersey cream and a sprinkling of soft brown Barbados sugar. It’s not just any old porridge – it’s Macroom oatmeal, lovingly kiln roasted and milled by Donal Creedon at Walton’s Mill, the last surviving stone mill in Ireland. The mill has been in the same family since the 1700’s. Donal, the great, great, great, great grandson of founder, Richard Walton, carefully and respectfully carries on the tradition.


The porridge is sold in the same distinctive red, white and yellow bags – which is somehow reassuring. The oats are gently toasted for up to two days on cast iron plates to give the oatmeal the distinctive toasted flavour we all love. 

Long gone are the days of gruel and watery porridge….. So if you are convinced oatmeal is just for breakfast – think again! The texture is deliciously chunky and packed with flavour. Steel cut or what many refer to as pinhead oatmeal, which takes considerably longer to cook. Jumbo rolled oats and ‘speedie cook’ rolled oats, are also delicious. Oatmeal is not just for breakfast porridge, biscuits and granola. It’s also brilliant in savoury dishes such as savoury porridge with greens.



A past student Alex Hely-Hutchinson, opened a restaurant in London called 26 Grains. The 8 or 9 different types of porridge on their menu, both sweet and savoury have customers queuing every day. 26 Grains was probably inspired by GrØd, the porridge paradise in Copenhagen, opened in 2011 in a basement on Jaegerborggade, at that time a distinctively dodgy street with appealingly low rent. Now there are several branches and a GrØd cookbook. They were pretty much ‘skint’ when they opened but manged to afford to buy some oats to make bowls of hot steaming porridge – the rest is history…a huge success story! The menu now includes other comforting food like risotto, dahl and congee and there are now branches all over Denmark.


Oatmeal has a long and fascinating history. It has been grown in Ireland since medieval times, our humid, wet climate suits it. There are many historical references and a wealth of archaeological evidence. Oats were used in gruel, porridges, flatbreads and by all accounts, a not very good beer! The straw and chaff were used in the manufacture of floor covering, baskets, hen roosts and bedding – but back to the kitchen.

To use that much overused term, they are definitely a ‘super food’. Oats are packed with protein, high in soluble fibre, which helps to lower cholesterol and you’ll have noticed that you don’t feel like reaching for a donut at eleven if you have a bowl of porridge for breakfast. Apart from the fibre content which is good for your gut and helps to prevent constipation, it is super filling and satisfying and boosts our energy levels. Oats also contain a wide range of nutrients, vitamin E, essential fatty acids and if you are to believe all the research, helps to prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering your bad LDL cholesterol without affecting the good cholesterol. The high fibre and complex carbs help to stabilize the blood sugar according to the American Cancer Society. The lignans in oats helps to reduce hormone related cancers. 

Up to relatively recently I was a Jersey cream and soft dark brown sugar devotee but I’ve become much more adventurous (led by my grandchildren and the Ballymaloe Cookery School students example). Think peanut butter and banana; walnuts, blueberries and maple syrup or honey, roast almonds, dates and almond butter (it’s all about what you sprinkle on top). Stewed apple or compote with cinnamon. I draw the line at white or dark chocolate chips but suspect that’s a generational thing.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Falastin

Have you heard of Sami Tamimi? His name may not be all that familiar to you but he is the business partner of Yotam Ottolenghi. The pair are credited with introducing us all to Middle Eastern food and many ingredients that we were hitherto totally unfamiliar with – sumac, za’atar, Aleppo pepper, baharat, sumac, pomegranate molasses, tahini...


The story of how this Palestinian and Israeli met and became firm friends is intriguing, an inspiration to many. Food unites us all and despite the heart breaking political situation, their friendship has endured for over 20 years. They met in 1999 when Sami worked at Baker and Spice in London.

Sami and Yotam run three Ottolenghi branches in Notting Hill, Islington and Belgravia as well as Nopi and Rovi and have co-authored 2 books together, Ottolenghi in 2008 and Jerusalem in 2012.



Sami’s latest book is called Falastin which means Palestine in Arabic. The name is deeply symbolic and for Sami has many interwoven emotions.

Palestinian home cooks and cookbook writers tend to be women who pass the skills and recipes from on generation to another. Sami however lost his mother when he was seven – he spent much of his childhood being shooed out of the kitchen by his aunties and sisters.

For me it’s a fantastic book, it has instant appeal, packed with recipes I really want to dash into the kitchen to cook and share with friends.

Falastin is co-authored with Ballymaloe alumni Tara Wigley, who also collaborated with Yotam on his book, Simple.


For Sami, Falastin is a deeply important book full of haunting memories of his mother’s delicious food and Palestine – as Tara wrote – ‘It’s a love letter to his country’. 

She has been part of the Ottolenghi family since 2010, she turned up on her bike, fresh from a 12 Week Certificate Course here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. She had arrived to us in April 2010 with her 18 month old twins and a great big Bosnian dog named Andy. Tara was leaving a decade in publishing, her dream was to combine her love of cooking and writing and it quickly became clear that at Ottolenghi she could have her cake and eat it!

After a few years collaborating with Yotam and Sami on recipe testing, writing and cooking, Tara focused exclusively on writing. She remains a passionate home cook and knows very well how to fill a table with a feast.

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Apple Season



Storm Ellen and Storm Francis played “hell” with our apple crop. We didn’t have a particularly good crop anyway but much of our meagre harvest ended up as windfalls in the grass underneath the apple trees in the orchard. Some like Beauty of Bath were already ripe, many other varieties were not but still the strong winds managed to shake them off their branches. I collected as many as I could to make windfall jelly. 


These under-ripe fruit are perfect for apple jelly, don’t worry about the odd bruise or slug bite just cut them out. Wash the fruit but don’t bother to peel, save the stalks and seeds too, they all add to the end result.

To make the preserve... Just fill a large pot with the coarsely chopped fruit, cover with cold water. Add other flavours if you fancy, a few fistfuls of blackberries, sloes, rowan berries, damsons or haws. If you add a mixture, it can be called Hedgerow jelly. Alternatively, simply add mint, chillies or a pinch of traditional cloves. This is a brilliant all-purpose recipe – ‘a-catch-all’ to use up a couple of fistfuls of autumn fruit and berries. I can add some ripe elderberries, and in a few weeks bletted medlars to make a delicious apple and medlar jelly to accompany game or a boiled leg of mutton.


We have also found that the strong pectin, rich apple juice works brilliantly as a natural gelling agent in both strawberry and blackberry jam, both of which can be notoriously difficult to set. We plan to freeze it as an experiment to use in winter jams and jellies instead of jam sugar.

And who doesn’t love an apple tart? Every family has their favourite pastry. My recipe for a buttery ‘break all the rules’ shortcrust pastry was passed on to me by my Mum. It’s not just our favourite but has become many other people’s ‘go to’ recipe for a tart or pie crust. 
Or how about an Autumn apple and blackberry pie, with cinnamon sugar or the aristocrat of apple tarts, the French classic, Tarte Tatin. 



Apple Charlotte is an almost forgotten pudding. I find it’s best made with Cox’s Orange Pippin apples and slices of good white yeast bread, soaked in melted butter – No wonder, it’s so delicious. I make it just once a year, but the memory of the texture of the crisp buttery bread and the sweetness of the Cox’s Apple puree lingers for months on end. Or a simple recipe for apple fritters, another of my grandchildren’s favourites which they have nicknamed Scary Little Monsters because of the funny shapes the batter cooks into on the pan... sprinkle them with castor sugar and enjoy....


Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Preserving the Harvest



I’ve been a bit like a broken record throughout this Covid 19 pandemic reminding readers on almost a weekly basis about the importance of really focussing on the quality of the food we are feeding ourselves and our families at this critical time.

Many of you have been actively seeking out local farmers markets and buying directly from the growers and food producers – building up a bond of trust. Others have signed up to an Organic box scheme where you receive a weekly box of beautiful seasonal vegetables, fruit and herbs fresh from the garden. Chock full of minerals, vitamins and trace elements to boost your energy, mood and immune systems. Those of you who like us embrace the concept of growing your own food have been enjoying the fruit of your labours and now fully understand the excitement, importance and frustrations of the ‘farm to fork’ concept and the heightened enjoyment of eating food you have personally grown and sown the seeds, watered, weeded and harvested.



The pride and joy of sitting down to a plate of food where everything on your plate came from your garden or local producers known to you personally is tangible, you won’t want to waste a single morsel of this precious food….

Now it’s September and summer 2020 has just whizzed by in a blur… Several of you have contacted me wondering what to do with the end of summer glut of home grown fruit and vegetables.

Large courgettes, squishy ripe tomatoes, cucumbers and aubergines… One lady who rang me from the UK actually had a glut of figs, I was deeply envious but having never been in that fortunate situation I was slightly at a loss to think of how to use up almost 100 ripe figs other than making jam and lots of figgy tart and puddings, but she lives alone and we’re not supposed to invite lots of friends around...so what to do…?

Figs dry brilliantly, but Rory suggested freezing them for winter preserves. In the absence of hot sun, how about experimenting with slowly drying them in a fan oven or dehydrated using a dehydrator. 


Chillies are easy, thread the stalks onto a piece of strong cotton thread to make a truss or ‘ristra’ as they call it in Italy. Hang it on a hook in your pantry or loop them under your kitchen shelves. Either way they’ll look great as well as being easy to snip off when you need to add a bit of excitement to a dish.

Alternatively dig up your mature chilli plants, shake off the earth from the roots, pick off the leaves, hang it upside down in a well ventilated spot, turning every day or two until the chillies are dry. If you have a dehydrator they can be dried whole or in slices as can tomatoes and aubergines.

Dehydrators are not overly expensive - €50 – €200 depending on size and quality. For years I hesitated, reckoning that it would be a white elephant sitting in a corner of the kitchen used only sporadically. However, my dehydrator is in constant use. We dry a myriad of vegetables, fruit herbs and edible flowers. Students also love to experiment with it. Don’t worry if you don’t have a dehydrator, a fan oven at the lowest setting also works brilliantly, just spread out whole or sliced items on wire or oven racks and turn regularly. Keep an eye on them and then store in airtight jars.

We have buckets of super ripe, end of season tomatoes and like those of you who have grown your own we can’t bear to waste a single one. We freeze lots whole, just as they are, for winter stews, tagines and of course our all-time favourite tomato fondue (defrost in a sieve to remove the excess liquid, which can be used in soups).


The really soft squishy ones, bursting with flavour are cooked into puree to make tomato and basil soup for the winter that will be reminiscent of summer flavours. All soups and liquids are frozen in recycled one litre milk bottles and gallon cream containers. They stack neatly side by side and cost nothing.

Large courgettes don’t have much flavour but can be frozen grated or in cubes (tray freeze) and added to frittatas, tomato fondue or gutsy winter stews with lots of rosemary, sage and thyme leaves to boost the flavour. As summer changes to autumn, basil will wither and fade, so preserve the best leaves in olive oil to add a taste of summer to winter dishes.



Aubergines are best made into a spiced aubergine mixture – can’t tell you how many times this delicious pickle has come to the rescue, gorgeous with lamb or pork, mozzarella or paired with an oozing burrata as a starter.

Keen gardeners won’t want to waste a morsel of their home grown produce. For more ideas – check out my Grow, Cook, Nourish book published in 2017 which has a "How to use up a glut deliciously", suggestion for every fruit, vegetable and fresh herb.


Monday, 17 August 2020

The Mackerel are In...

The word spreads like lightning around our local fishing village, “The mackerel are in”.

Hopefuls head for Ballycotton pier with rod and line.. full of anticipation.

You may be surprised to learn that the humble mackerel is my favourite sea fish – but it must be spanking fresh. In fishing villages, all around our coast, fishermen have a saying that “the sun should never set on a mackerel”. They well know that these fish develop a strong unappealing oily flavour as they age, so must be enjoyed super fresh. 


Fishing for mackerel evokes happy memories for many. A recent Instagram post evoked a deluge of nostalgic memories of catching mackerel with a hook and line and hauling four or five iridescent wriggling fish at a time over the side of the boat when the shoals of fish come into the bay. Sometimes the water thrashes with movement when the mackerel are chasing a shoal of sprats almost to the shore. One can virtually scoop the mackerel with your hands into a bucket - it’s a feast or a famine… This phenomenon is regularly witnessed during summer in Youghal Bay.

The secret to keeping fish fresh for longer is to gut them immediately, right there and then in the boat. Throw the entrails overboard for the squawking gulls who will be swooping around hoping for a treat .

A seasoned West Cork fisherman gave me another brilliant tip. He not only guts them but also chops off the head and tail as soon as they’ve been caught. They bleed and consequently will be stiff and spanking fresh the next day when kept overnight in the fridge. He also insisted that it was important, just to wash them in seawater rather than fresh water. All of this is of course in an ideal world where you are close to the sea. However it emphasises the point that mackerel, like all fish, wherever you source it are at their most delicious when fresh. It’s even more important with mackerel because of their high oil content. These inexpensive little fish are packed with Omega 3, vitamin 
D and B6 and are a super source of protein, as well as potassium, zinc, cobalamin and magnesium.


They are also super versatile, they are gorgeous pan grilled but also delicious poached as well as roasted or tossed on the BBQ. Try this recipe with Bretonne sauce that Myrtle Allen shared with me years ago. They take just minutes to poach. We also love to warm smoke them in a biscuit tin over a gas jet. Again, lots of ‘bang for your buck’ in terms of flavour and fun.


For extra satisfaction, learn to fillet them yourself, you can just slide a sharp knife above the backbone from the tail towards the head, slice right through the pin bones or one can fillet them more meticulously. It takes a little practice but it is a skill well worth acquiring. Alternatively, ask your fishmonger to do it for you and watch carefully. Here are a few of my favourite mackerel recipes. All quick and easy for you to enjoy with your family and a few lucky friends.

Line-Caught Mackerel with Lemon and Fennel Flower Mayo 


super fresh line-caught mackerel

seasoned flour

small knob of butter

Lemon Mayo

3 tablespoons diced fresh fennel

Garnish

1 tablespoon fennel herb

fennel flowers

lemon wedges



Gut and fillet the mackerel, sprinkle with salt, keep chilled.

Make the mayo, add the diced and chopped fennel. Taste and correct the seasoning. Keep aside.

Just before serving.

Heat the grill pan over a medium heat. Dip the fish fillets in flour which has been seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Shake off the excess flour and then spread a little butter with a knife on the flesh side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly. When the grill is quite hot but not smoking, place the fish fillets butter side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as they touch the pan. Reduce the heat slightly and let them cook for 3 -4 minutes on that side before you turn them over. Continue to cook on the other side until crisp and golden.

Serve on hot plates with fennel mayo and a sprinkling of fennel flowers as well as a wedge of lemon.



Warm Poached Mackerel with Bretonne Sauce


Serves 4 as a main course

8 as a starter



Fresh mackerel gently poached and served warm with this simple sauce is an absolute feast without question one of my favourite foods. 


4 fresh mackerel

1.2 litres (40fl oz) water

1 teaspoon salt


Bretonne Sauce


75g (3ozs) butter, melted

1 eggs yolk, preferably free range

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (We use Maille Verte Aux Herbs)

1 tablespoon chopped herbs, a mixture of parsley, chervil, chives, tarragon and fennel, chopped (mixed)


Cut the heads off very fresh mackerel. Gut and clean them but keep whole.

Bring the water to the boil; add the salt and the mackerel. Bring back to boiling point, and remove from the heat. After about 5-8 minutes, check to see whether the fish are cooked. The flesh should lift off the bone. It will be tender and melting.

Meanwhile make the sauce.

Melt the butter and allow to boil. Put the egg yolks into a bowl, add the mustard and the herbs, mix well. Whisk the hot melted butter into the egg yolk mixture little by little so that the sauce emulsifies. Keep warm, by placing the Pyrex bowl in a saucepan of hot but not boiling water.

When the mackerel is cool enough to handle, remove to a plate. Skin, lift the flesh carefully from the bones and arrange on a serving dish. Coat with the sauce and serve while still warm with a good green salad and new potatoes.

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Time for a Jam Session




We’re smack bang in the middle of the soft fruit and stone season. It’s been a brilliant year. We’ve had a terrific crop of currants and berries, always a challenge to get them picked at the peak of perfection between the showers. Lots of red, white and black currants have already been picked, weighed, bagged and safely tucked into the freezer for autumn and winter, jams, jellies and puddings. They freeze perfectly, no need to string before freezing. I discovered that life changing fact a few years ago when I was too busy to string the currants and had to just bung them into the freezer, thinking I’ll worry about that later….To my amazement, I discovered that if you just shake the bag of frozen fruit, the strings drop off and can be picked out in a matter of minutes, a game changer…

The green gooseberries are long finished, we made lots of green gooseberry and elderflower jam, one of my all-time favourites but now it’s red gooseberry jam from the end of the dessert gooseberry crop (they are sweeter so don’t forget to reduce the sugar). Traditional single flavour jams are of course delicious when made with beautiful fresh currants and berries but how about becoming more creative and adventurous. 


I’m loving having fun with different flavour combinations. Blackcurrant and rose geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) worked brilliantly after I’d picked a huge colander of plump blackcurrants a few days ago. Blackcurrants are high in pectin so blackcurrant jam is easy to make, in fact one has to be careful not to overcook. It reaches setting point in a nice wide saucepan in 10 or 12 minutes. Strawberry and blackberry are a different matter, both fruits are low in pectin (the gelling component in fruit) so they will need extra acidity. Tart cooking apples high in pectin work well. Some cooks like to use jam sugar, I’m not a fan, mostly because the jam will indeed set but is likely to have the texture of bought jam and for my taste a slightly odd aftertaste which kind of defeats the purpose of making it yourself and then many brands include palm oil, a no no for me…..

If you are fortunate to own or have access to a fig tree, add a couple of leaves to raspberry or peach jam or make a fig leaf jelly by adding lots of fig leaf - say 5 or 6 to an apple jelly base. It’ll enhance the jelly with a delicious slightly almondy flavour. Lemon verbena leaves from the tender shrub (Aloysia citrodora) add magic to many jams, as does our favourite rose geranium – a plant that no house should be without. It’s a tender perennial with scented leaves with a haunting lemony flavour. Spices too can perk up jams and preserves – experiment but I’ve enjoyed strawberry and black pepper, peach and cardamom, orange, clove and cinnamon, pear and ginger. Maybe add a pinch of chilli flakes – but don’t get carried away…



Guideline Rules for Successful Jam-Making – even if you are a complete novice

1. For really good jam, the fruit must be freshly picked, dry and unblemished

2. Slightly under ripe fruit will have more pectin and so the jam will set better.

3. Jam made from fruit that was wet when picked is more likely to go mouldy within a short time.

4. The best jam is made in small quantities – e.g. no more than 3lbs of raspberries at a time, perhaps 1.8kg (4lbs) of strawberries with 150ml (5fl oz) of redcurrant juice to help the set. Small quantities cook in a few minutes, so both the colour and the flavour of the jam will be perfect.

5. Ideally one should use a preserving pan for jam-making. Choose your widest stainless steel pan with a heavy base and sides at least 9 inch deep. It goes without saying that the depth of the contents in the preserving pan and the rate at which they boil, determine how long the jam needs to cook.

6. Sugar is the preservative in jams, so it is important to use the correct proportion - too little and the jam may ferment, too much may cause crystallization.

7. Citrus fruit peel, blackcurrants, gooseberries etc. must be thoroughly softened before sugar is added, otherwise the skins will toughen and no amount of boiling will soften them, sugar has a hardening effect on skin and peel.

8. Stir well to ensure that the sugar is completely dissolved before the jam comes to the boil, (otherwise the jam may crystallize on top). For this reason it is better to add heated sugar, which dissolves more quickly. Stir with a wooden spoon until the “gritty feeling” disappears.

9. Fruit should be simmered until the sugar is added, but from then on, it is best to boil as fast as possible until setting point is reached. Stir occasionally so it doesn’t catch on the base of the saucepan.

10. If necessary skim near to the end of cooking. If there is only a little scum, dissolve with a tiny lump of butter stirred in after the jam has reached setting point.


How Do I Know if the Jam is Cooked?

Test for setting frequently so that the jam doesn’t overcook – it will set when the temperature reaches 220°C on a sugar thermometer, a handy but expensive bit of kitchen equipment that you can live without. Alternatively put a teaspoonful of jam on a cold plate, leave in a cool place for a few minutes, if the jam wrinkles when pushed with the tip of your finger it has reached setting point. Skim if necessary and pot immediately.


How Do I Store the Jam?

Wash, rinse and dry the jam jars (remove any traces of old labels or any traces of glue if recycling, sometimes pretty tricky but methylated spirit will usually do the job. Jars should then be put into a preheated oven for 10 minutes at 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3 1/2. Lids may also be sterilised in the oven – 5 minutes is fine. Fill the pots to the top to allow for shrinkage on cooling (use a jam funnel, to avoid drips). Cover immediately with sterilised screw top lids if available or jam covers.


Covering Jam Jars

 Screw top lids should be sterilized in the oven or in boiling water before use.

One can buy packets of jam covers in most shops or supermarkets. These are made up of three elements, a silicone disc of paper, a large round of cellophane and a rubber band.

When the jam has reached setting point, pour into sterilised jars. Cover immediately with silicone discs (slippy side down onto the jam). Wet one side of the cellophane paper, then stretch the ‘dry side’ over the jar, and secure with a rubber band. If the cellophane disc is not moistened it will not become taut when the jam gets cold.

Later the jars can be covered with doilies or rounds of material or coloured paper. These covers can be secured with rubber bands plain or coloured, narrow florists ribbons tied into bows or ordinary ribbon with perhaps a little sprig of dried flowers or herbs.

Selling Jam

Really delicious jams are always a welcome present and are also very eagerly sought after by local shops and delicatessens.

Remember if you are selling your jams to cost it properly, taking jars, covers, labels, food cost, heat, etc., into consideration. A formula used by many is food cost x 4. This would cover all the other items mentioned. If you are producing jam for sale you must contact the health authorities and comply with their regulations.

Note on Pectin

Pectin is the substance in fruit which sets jam. It is contained in the cell walls of fruit in varying degrees. It is higher when the fruit is under ripe. Acid e.g. lemon juice helps in the extraction of pectin. Some fruits are higher in pectin than others e.g. plums, damsons, gooseberries, blackcurrants and apples, while others contain little or none, e.g. marrow, strawberries and blackberries. In these cases, it is necessary to add acid in the form of lemon juice or commercial pectin.