Jam: Summer in a jar

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

If you think life's too short to make jam, then you'll be surprised how simple it is to turn the season's berries into tasty preserves. Alice-Azania Jarvis stirs it up

Home-made jam: isn't that a treat? A rarity, too, most of the time, something to be associated with country tea rooms, or Christmas gifts, or retired aunts with time on their hands. Not, normally, an every-day occurrence. Jam, and marmalade, and pickle, and relish: these are things we pick up at the supermarket for a pound or two to spread on toast or shove between layers of (quite possibly home-made) sponge. Even the most competent of cooks spend their life outsourcing their spreads. Jam... well, if we were to make our own all the time, we'd never leave the house, would we? It might be a nice thing to try one day but it does seem rather an exercise in devotion, and a complicated one at that. Don't you need a thermometer? And special jars? And all sorts of other apparatus?



This, at least, was my impression; a straw poll of friends and colleagues reveals that I'm not alone. With busy lives and little time, we simply can't be bothered with the hassle. But Ghillie James thinks she can change our minds. And, indeed, flicking through her book Jam, Jelly and Relish on the train to her home in Hampshire, things look promising. Are there any more reassuring words, in the context of a kitchen manual, than that reviving pair "don't panic"? James uses them a lot, combining a Delia Smith-esque voice of calm with a refreshingly modern outlook. Don't panic if your jam takes ages to set, she assures us: it will be fine. Don't worry if your rhubarb changes colour, it does that. Don't fret over expensive equipment, you don't need it.



Before becoming a bona fide jam expert, James worked at Sainsbury's Magazine, where she edited their food pages. This may explain her down-to-earth take on things. She's not a chef or even a professional cook, but a food writer: an enthusiast who had never contemplated anything as démodé, not to mention daunting, as jam making. "I never even attempted it," she laughs. "It was just one of those things that you imagine is going to take too much effort. It fell out of favour when women went to work, because they could no longer spend all day in the kitchen. I just imagined it to be so complicated."



As it turns out, a year of researching the subject has rather changed her mind. And so here I am, sitting in her picturesque kitchen, spooning her home-made chutney hungrily onto a plate already stacked with home-made tart (one for the second book perhaps; rather like jam, the spectre of dodgy pastry still manages to terrorise even the most capable of chefs into buying shop-bought), freshly plucked tomatoes and home-made sauce. In between dollops I eye up dessert: a tumble of scones swaddled in cream and – here's the crucial part – berry jam. Jam that we, James and jam-phobic old I, have made. We made it just a couple of hours ago, and it's been setting in the corner ever since.



Just a couple of hours! So much for the day-long exercise in devotion that I had imagined. In fact, quite a few of my expectations have proven mistaken, but we'll come to that in a moment. Because it's not just jam that has occupied the past couple of hours: James has also taught me how to make elderflower cordial (it's completely delicious and really very easy), all while pouring copious cups of tea, preparing our lunch, packing up a sandwich for later, and tending to her five-month-old daughter, Jemima. So you see? Contrary to my fears, jam is neither time consuming, nor all-absorbing. It's quite straightforward, and wholly compatible with the modern, multitasking world.



Which brings us back to those expectations. Thermometers? I've yet to see a single one. In fact none of the much-feared scientific apparatus has appeared. The only vaguely chef-y thing I've seen is a funnel for pouring the jam into its pots. In the event, we didn't even use it; the photographer complained that it was in his way, and the more picturesque ladle proved just as good. Preserving pans? Nope. A big Ikea pan worked just fine. Sterilising rituals? James recommends sticking your clean jam jars in the oven at 150 degrees Celsius for five or more minutes. We stick them in when we start with our jam, and take them out when it's time to pot it. It's all remarkably simple. The sole element of complication – and it's barely worth a mention – is the rubber ring that a couple of our jars sport. They might melt if we try to sterilise them in the oven, so we stick them in a tub of water with one of Jemima's baby-bottle sterilising tablets, and hey presto! Done. Why don't more people do this?



James thinks part of the problem is the very simplicity of jam: there are so many ways to make it without it going wrong that writers tend to list endless options. Would-be preservers take one look at the pages of alternatives and are turned off. "I just thought, why put all of that in when you don't need it. By all means, sterilise in boiling water if you like, but sticking them in the oven works just as well. It's the same with thermometers: you really don't need to measure the temperature to tell if the jam is done."



And, indeed, it would seem that she's right. All of James's recipes come with rough time guidelines, though really it's quite obvious when the cooking bit is done. In the case of our "muddled berry" jam – a mix of blackcurrant, strawberry and raspberries chosen because of its bursting, blushing seasonality – we need just 20 minutes – 10 to dissolve the sugar, and 10 on the boil, by which point it has become quite syrupy. Although the recipe mentions letting the fruit macerate for a couple of hours before cooking, the flying nature of my visit means things need to be speeded up a little. Sure enough, after 20 minutes, our mixture resembles less a bowl of fruit and water than a pot of hot coulis: it's thick, syrupy and glossy, which, says James, is just how it is supposed to be. We plop a spoonful onto a cold saucer, chill for 10 minutes and poke it. If it crinkles up, it's done. Ours doesn't the first time around, but does the second. And so, for the first time in my entire life, I've made jam. I'm even allowed to take it home, where it will last only two days, its appeal being far stronger than my will-power.



"I feel a bit like I'm blowing the WI's cover, or something," jokes James. "It's almost as if writers don't want everyone to know how easy it can be!" She might have a point; most jam recipes out there seem to be of the I-got-this-one-off-my-grandmother variety, dating back to the middle of the last century. That, of course, was the heyday of domestic science, when recipes were long-winded, precise and drafted by experts with a capital 'E'. While everything else has been given the Jamie Oliver/Nigella Lawson/Russle It Up In Five Minutes makeover, jam remains curiously without modernisation. Hopefully, not for much longer – at least, not if James has anything to do with it. "When I was writing the book, I sent out recipes to absolutely everyone," she says. "I wanted them to be completely fool-proof. The only problem we had was when one person tried to make the apricot jam with dried apricots! And the thing is, home made really is so much better than shop bought."



Better and, apparently, infinitely more adaptable. Jam, Jelly and Relish has recipes for everything from muddled berry jam to spiced figs, to onion and port marmalade and chilli-vodka Bloody Marys. None, I'm assured, will be much more complicated than what we've achieved today – but all taste considerably nicer than they would straight out of a factory. I think, just possibly, that James may have converted me. Home-made cake plus filling, anyone?





'Jam, Jelly and Relish: Simple Preserves, Pickles and Chutneys and Creative Ways to Cook with Them' by Ghillie James is available now in bookstores and online (Kyle Cathie, £16.99).







Muddled Berry Jam

Makes about 1.4 litres. Keeps for at least a year

500g strawberries, not too ripe, hulled and halved

350g blackcurrants

350g raspberries

Juice of two lemons

Juice of one orange

1 kg jam sugar

Put all the ingredients into a bowl and stir together. Leave to macerate in a bowl for 2 hours, which will give the fruit time to release its juices. Transfer to a large saucepan and gently bring to a simmer. Stir occasionally for the next 10–15 minutes to dissolve the sugar and begin to soften the fruits, then raise the heat up to high and boil for 10–15 minutes, or until the jam has reached setting point.

Leave the jam to settle for 10 minutes before spooning it into warm sterilised jars and sealing.





A brief history of jam

* The world's first known book of recipes, Of Culinary Matters, was written in the first century by the Roman cook Marcus Gavius Apicius and includes recipes for fruit preserves.

* European jam and jelly may have originated in the Middle East, where cane sugar was plentiful. It is believed they were introduced to Europe by soldiers returning from the Crusades. By the late Middle Ages, they were in widespread use.

* In folk etymology, Marmalade is often said to have been created in 1561 to treat the seasickness of Mary, Queen of Scots; according to this legend its name derives from the French "Marie est malade" (Mary is sick).

* In fact, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "marmalade" entered the English language in 1480, borrowed from the French marmelade which, in turn, came from the Portuguese marmelada, a quince paste which continues to be popular.

* In the US, published recipes for jam can be found dating back to the 17th century. Fruits were preserved with honey, molasses or maple sugar.

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits