I'm feeling very pleased with myself this morning, because I've made a giant batch of plum jam which has been universally acclaimed (by the family tasting panel) as delicious :) Well, with all that sugar in it why wouldn't it be!!
Last time I made plum jam I cooked it just a touch too long and it had an undertaste of caramelised sugar - still yummy, but not perfect. This time it's perfect. It looks and tastes just like something you'd expect in a shop bought jar.
The jar at the front is the one we're currently tucking into. The rest are sealed (hopefully) for storage. I didn't have any smaller jars around. I'll have to remind Andrew to save promite jars - he tends to recycle anything that's not nailed down. I have one glass jar with dripping in it in the fridge. Everything else I buy in bulk (e.g. honey) or it doesn't come in glass jars. So I've used an old moccona coffee jar (these are great for food storage, I collected them about 20 years ago when a housemate I had used to drink instant coffee - can't stand the stuff myself) and a click top jar (I have heaps of these for pulses, baking ingredients etc) and some fowler's vacola jars. Each one is giant, so once it's opened we'll just have to eat it fast ;) The fowler's vacola jars were for sale at the op shop - which is great - but they don't have the rubber seals - so I'm not using the tops. Must track some seals down. I've taken all the fastenings off the jars (except the one we're currently eating) and have sealed them with fowler's vacola plastic jam seals - which I bought at the supermarket.
I bought preserving wax as well, but didn't end up using it, because the kleerview covers apparently mean you don't have to these days. You brush one side of the plastic film square with vinegar or water, lay them on the warm jars when they are still hot, and put a rubber band around. They shrink and seal onto the jar as they cool. Seems to produce a good seal - a vacuum seal even. Not sure if you can see that it's all sucked in and convex in the picture:
So I bought 4.3kg of plums which worked out to a tad over 4kg once I cut the stones out (I just did multiple slices of the fruit, didn't try to halve and stone them). I used slightly under-ripe fruit (i.e. hard supermarket fruit!). I washed it all in detergent and hot water and rinsed it before I cooked it. All pesticides would be denatured by high heat boiling I guess, but I'd still rather be petro-chemical free.
The fruit was $4 a kilo (get it while it's hot!) - so $16 worth. I also needed 4kg of sugar. I used a mixture of raw castor sugar, horrible white castor sugar (which I've been buying because I want the storage containers it comes in), and organic raw sugar (which I am ecstatic you can now buy at Coles supermarkets - excellent news for me because a) i don't have access to a whole foods bulk supplier like Mrs Flannerys for simply miles, and b) paying 4x the price for commodities at a health food shop is beyond my budget magic. Also, I hope, this is good news for organic sugar farmers and eventually the Great Barrier Reef. Although we need c) everyone to buy it, and d) Coles to pay fair prices to farmers. Still, it's a start. I think it highly unlikely the mainstream will ever buy products that aren't being manufactured and distributed in an accessible fashion.) Anyway... ahem. Where was I up to? Oh yes..
And 4 cups of water. For those who don't know, you cook the fruit and water until it's soft, then add the sugar mountain and boil vigorously until the jam sets when tested. This time I decided to add additional pectin in the shape of shop bought JamSetta (you can also make your own out of lemon or cherry pips and muslin bags, but this was cheaper). Remove scum with a metal slotted spoon. Leave jam to stand 10 minutes before putting into jars. Remove the scum one last time before you do.
The jamsetta packet said to heat the sugar first in the oven, 6 mins at 150 degrees, on a big baking tray (literally a mountain of sugar, i could only fit 3.5kg on, the rest went in at room temp). So I did. Not sure why/ if this helped, but assume there is a good reason for it. I used the entire packet, which apparently does for 3kg of fruit (whereas I had 4kg). But you can make plum jam without additional pectin, so that's OK. I'd follow the directions for other low pectin jams like peach or apricot or pineapple though.
I had the oven on anyway because I had washed and rinsed the jars, then boiled them on the stove in a pot, then using tongs and a clean teatowel (no touching, especially inside) transferred them to the oven (at about 200 degrees at first, then eventually whilst the jam cooked I knocked it back to 50 degrees - i.e. just to warm by the time it came to fill them). Also I made sure the jars weren't touching inside the oven because I have a dim recollection that this can cause them to break? Not sure, but I did it anyway. Maybe this was meant to be if you're boiling more than one at a time standing up? Not sure.
I used my biggest saucepan and mixing bowl, but neither was big enough. The big saucepan was big enough for the fruit and water, but wasn't big enough when I wanted to add all of the sugar (I overflowed it trying to get away with it). The entire mixture wouldn't fit into the big metal bowl either. I had to divide it between the big saucepan and the smaller saucepan, whilst also adding the last of the sugar in the right proportions. Tricky. Messy. Difficult. Kind of dangerous (I barricaded the cooking area so chaotic children couldn't run through). At one point I took everything off the hob and cleaned it before the jam baked onto it :(
But I returned it all to the boil and it didn't seem to mind which was good :)
JAM SETTING TEST
Put a teaspoon of the jam on a cold saucer (from the freezer). Wait 30 seconds. Draw finger or teaspoon through the jam. If it forms a wrinkly skin sort of thing behind your finger it is done. If not, put saucer back in freezer and repeat.
The jam tends to reduce to about 2/3 the original size before it's ready. I'm not sure how long it took. Maybe 40 minutes? (see hob cleaning episode). It will depend on your volume to surface area anyway. Also the strength of your boil. The recipe said vigorous. My grandmother always specified a rolling boil (probably to prevent burns?) so I did somewhere in the middle. I tested every ten minutes or so at first, reducing to every few minutes by the time it was starting to gel on the plate (but not within the 30 second timeframe). I did get one spit of jam on my finger whilst stirring with the wooden spoon and had to run it under the tap. It's so hot. Hideous.
Everything has to be clean.
Put TWO saucers in the freezer before you start (so one is getting cold while the other one is being used. Otherwise if you test fairly frequently and rinse your plate it starts to be not very cold).
Have sterilised jars warm in the oven ready to go.
Warm the sugar up - 150 degrees for 6 minutes in a giant baking tray.
No bigger than 4 kg of fruit unless you have a monster hob and a monster pot - hard to boil otherwise (if you do it in one pot you need a wok burner).
Divide your fruit mix into separate saucepans at the beginning, allocate water and sugar according to relative weights .
Probably a lot of palaver for less than 2kg of fruit.
I used paper towel to wipe the vinegar on the sealing plastic. Hopefully that works and it's all clean and mould free in those jars a few months from now.
There are rubber bands the right size for fowler's vacola jars in the sealing kit - but you might want to have some bigger ones around if you're using bigger jars.
Don't put cold jars in hot water, or hot jam in cold jars - they can shatter.
Wide mouth jars are good for pouring jam into. A metal wide mouthed funnel would be good if you didn't have wide mouthed jars. A ladle is helpful. Especially one of those ones with the pouring lip on one side.
I spent $16 on fruit, about $6 on sugar, and about $6 on pectin and seals. So say $30 all up. After cooking (and guessing the weights of the jars I'm afraid), I reckon the yield was about 7.3 kg of jam. I paid $4 for this jar of jam (although it was on special. Often good jam is more like $6.50 for a jar this size. Sugar free jam is $8! I wonder if I could make sugar free? Maybe with lots of pectin and lemon. Anyway..). This jar is 350g net.
So for $30 we have $83 dollars worth of jam. Or $104 worth if you take an average price of $5 for one of these jars. OK, so benefit one = economy.
Benefit two = high quality product. No preservatives. No glucose syrup. Fresh, ripe, healthy produce. Lots of fruit. No flavourings or colourings.
Benefit three - very low comparative carbon footprint.
Benefit four - local ingredients helping local farmers and local economies (whereas this Australian jam pictured above is owned by Heinz which is owned by Cadburys, and it says it uses local and imported ingredients. Now I'm not nationalist or xenophobic etc, but it's not good economically or socially to pay local farmers a pittance or ignore their products in favour of cheaper overseas ones, and export profits to very wealthy global corporations). It would be even better if I'd bought from a farm or a farmer's market and an organic sugar co-operative! I wish. It used to be against my religion to buy fresh food from a supermarket. But now we live in the country the local IGA is pretty much it for fruit and veg.
I don't actually approve of eating sugar very much! and usually we don't have jam in the house, only honey. Apricot jam is good brushed on baked apple cake though ;) . I've asked everyone to lay off the jam, and I will keep it in the fridge so it lasts longer, and hopefully it will mostly be used in baking.
I made a big mess on the stove :(
I spilled sugar in the oven (it hit the overhead grill element) and made a mess in there too :(
Boiling jam is a bad burns risk.
I think we're ahead! :D
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