Thursday, 5 August 2010

A jam packed day

We have this blackcurrant bush in our garden that was bought last year, I think. I am fairly sure that it was reduced from either Woolies or B&M which has replaced it in the local town. I noticed a few weeks back that it was heaving with ripe blackcurrants and hatched a plan to make jam with it. I've made jam once or twice before and found a recipe in a book on jams I have that was basically blackcurrants, sugar and water.

I was not expecting the odyssey that it became to make this bloody jam.

Monday - I go to the shop and buy a big bag of caster sugar with the weekly shop. On getting home,  I decide I will go pick the blackcurrants once the shopping is packed away. I am about to start when I notice it has started raining. I decide to wait until it stops as it looks like a lot to pick. It is still raining 9 hours later.

Tuesday - it's raining when we get up, but after clearing up the kitchen after school run, I notice it's not too bad, and head outside. It is now 10am. I figure it's going to take me half an hour. After half an hour, there's still loads to pick on the bush. I tell myself I'll stop, at the latest, at 11am. By the time 11am rolls around, I feel like I've just got a few more to pick so I tell myself I may as well finish clearing the bush as more rain is forecast and the berries might rot. I finally finish at 11.20am with a huge bowl of blackcurrants to show for my labours.

Fresh from the garden
I get inside and it starts to rain again about 10 mins later and doesn't stop for the rest of the day including some complete deluges triggering flash floods. My timing, it would appear, was apt - for a change.

I wash, pick over and weigh the blackcurrants. Nearly 2kg! The recipe I have is for 1kg. Simple, I think - I'll just double the recipe. I have a large stockpot I've used before now. The recipe states a lot of water (and I think I'd add less definitely in future, as from what I know of jam-making, you need to cook the fruit and reduce it to an extent for it to be the right pectin level to set. Too much water is going to slow down how long this takes). So, I think my first mistake is to blithely double the amount of water needed to the pan.

Noon - The blackcurrants need to boil and soften apparently before the sugar is added so the pan goes on the hob. And I wait. My problem is that the stockpot is so big that leaving the lid off means it doesn't boil properly, and putting it on means it boils over too easily. And that amount of blackcurrants and water take a looooooong time to get up to boiling point. It's nearly 12.20pm by the time it starts boiling when I encounter aforementioned problem with keeping it boiling. More than once, the pan boils over and makes a mess of the hob. The recipe says boil for 15 mins but I easily leave it for double that to ensure it has boiled enough. Whilst this is happening, I wash the jars I am going to use and place in the oven to sterilise.

1pm - I finally add the sugar and start to stir, to dissolve it. It takes about 15 mins of stirring to dissolve the sugar completely and I turn up the heat again. Obviously now, there is even more in the pan and boiling over is an even greater likelihood. I resolve to watch the pan but yanno, I have things to do and I'd already made and let two cups of tea go cold. Again, the recipe says boil for 15 mins before starting to test for a set but it keeps boiling up, I have to take the lid off or risking it boiling onto the hob, then take the lid off and it stops boiling. I then double - again - the length of time I need to leave it cook because of this, and also because I have to keep skimming the scum off the top, which means leaving the lid off.

2pm (ish) - it looks like I could start testing for a set but the first couple of goes show it needs to cook for longer. At least the jars will be well sterilised by now - they've been in the oven for nearly an hour and a half, but only need about 15 mins. Finally, the test shows it's starting to set, so I leave it a few minutes to go and make an important call because I'd had someone on the phone hassling me about something.

The call takes a bit longer than planned but no more than about 5 mins and I go back into the kitchen and OMG! Boiling over is probably a euphemism for what has occurred - there is a river of jam on my hob. The lid was on, wasn't it?

2.30pm (less than an hour till school run) - I hastily put all the jam into jars, and start the process of clearing up the hob, the burners, everything and bunging anything that is removable into the dishwasher. After a LOT of scrubbing and scraping, I finally get the hob clean.

Lots and lots and lots of jam.
3.10pm - FINISHED! I look at my watch and think it's time to leave for school. And all I have to show for my day is a few jars of jam. But the jam, the jam is fabulous - and all the more satisfying because the fruit was free and really fresh when I made the jam. Intensely flavoured, still slightly tart, but with enough sweetness to balance it out. I made so much, I gave away 3 jars as presents and still left us with about six months' supply of blackcurrant jam. It is not a stiff set so it is lovely with natural yogurt and I think it would be nice on ice-cream too.

I noticed that the jam recipe says it takes an hour to make. Ha, I started at 10 and finished past 3. I make that 5 hours (although admittedly, the recipe doesn't expect you to pick your own first!) and counting. As my plan was to make jam AND chocolate cake during the day whilst the children were out, my evening was somewhat filled with cake making and icing.

Next time, I will make smaller batches of jam though most of the recipes online seem to use the amount of blackcurrants that I had. Maybe I just need special jam-making equipment. Or maybe I just need to concentrate more.


  1. Sounds just like the kind of thing I do - halfway through I realise something probably wasn't the best idea - but I carry on doing it anyway! And then wonder why it doesn't turn out properly!

  2. I make chutney and it always takes soooo much longer then they say, "prep 20 mins" more like 2 hrs when dealing with kids, cats and dogs....

    It looks lovely though, Blackcurrant is my favourite, pehaps you should do a blog competition to win a jar, or just send me the surplus!

  3. Ha, I'm jam making this weekend, I'll let you know how I get on!

  4. I have never dared to make jam, I love my cooker too much...

  5. LOL. Pippa, it does clean up and ours is white. Not sure stainless steel would be as fine cleaning up.

  6. Ha indeed! Be interested to hear how it goes. :)

  7. Oh yes, I have made chutney and chopping takes forever. Apples in particular, I always find.

    The giveaway is a great idea but I suspect with my luck, the jar would break in the post so it would be restricted to anyone who could collect or I could deliver to, so that would limit it somewhat!

  8. Hi Sharon, thanks for the comment. I think I lucked out on this but could probably have got another half a jar out of it.

  9. I'm encouraged that you have no specialist equipment - it's always that which has put me off. Oh, that and the fact that I could just buy some jam instead...

  10. Ah yes, I do have a fascination with making things from scratch. Rubbish at sewing and other crafts, so cooking is my form of expression, I guess. And it worked out cheaper - I made tons of jam for the price of a big bag of sugar and the gas on the hob.


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