Rich People’s Problems: The sticky economics of jam making
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“I can see you’ve been making jam again!” The text from our housekeeper Hazel said it all. I blame my mother.
As well as teaching me how to make jam (and other things) when I was young, mum also taught me the art of “doing a Wendy”. This is our family’s shorthand for using every pot, pan and utensil in the kitchen, then leaving the resulting mess for someone else to clear up. A lesson she learnt at the Cordon Bleu.
While I do a certain amount of post cooking clean-up, some of the more stubborn items may possibly be left in the sink for later. Hence the text from my housekeeper.
The cost of the clean-up operation means that making your own jam is totally uneconomic — but it’s a simply marvellous hobby. Decanting molten jam from pot to jar is a messy business, and that’s assuming the cooking process has gone to plan. Jam making is an art, not a science. Mastering a rolling boil without being distracted by an old episode of proper Top Gear on Dave really is an achievement.
If the calamity of overboiling occurs, you’ll need instantly to take all the bits off the gas hob and put them in a sink full of boiling hot soapy water to soak. It’s almost as awful as having to do an inside-house dog poo clear-up. Both jobs are intense, and need to be done immediately. Unlike pots and pans, they cannot wait for the housekeeper’s arrival.
Making your own jam is easy. But it is quite a bother for busy people. So why would you? I am well aware that you can go to Asda and pick up a 454g jar of their Smartprice strawberry jam for 28p. However, you’ll only get 35g of fruit per 100g of sugary spread.
At that price, you’d be better off buying it and throwing away the contents. This is cheaper than buying a luxury (but empty) jar to put your homemade jam into which generally cost between 50p and £1 each. This explains why my cupboards are full of old jars ready and waiting to be recycled.
There are plenty of supermarket jams that contain more fruit. A 340g jar of Asda’s Extra Special conserve is £1 and has 60g of fruit per 100g of jam. Or pop down to Waitrose and get two 340g jars of Succulent Strawberry extra fruity preserve for just £3. Homemade jam is never going to compete on price with supermarkets. You have to go to the other end of the scale to experience the real competition.
One review of Daylesford Organic (£2.49 for 227g) reads: “I used to be a stalwart for the famous French jams, but eventually got dismayed with their sloppiness — even when being stored in the fridge” Zut alors! Closest, perhaps, is Fortnum & Mason. Their jam is delicious and the flavour combinations adventurous. At a wallet-busting £6.25 for 200g of its strawberry and champagne conserve, my home-made jam exploits are beginning to make economic sense.
Saving money on the jars means you can spend more on the jam-related accessories. The essentials are a jam thermometer and wax discs, but there are a wide array of labels and fancy jar toppers that the enthusiast can happily splash the cash on. You can even buy a luxury electric jam maker in the Lakeland sale for the bargain price of £100 — but for me, that would take away the science experiment nature of the jam making ritual.
Like anything, the best taste comes from the best ingredients. Growing your own fruit and vegetables is not only highly satisfying, it also demonstrates what the mass commoditisation of our food production has done to taste and quality. Yes, the stuff you buy from the supermarket often looks lovely. But it has been preserved in inert gasses and packed in plastic, maybe even flown halfway around the globe just so you can have it out of season. It’s no wonder we have a myriad of recipes to make what we buy taste interesting, because all the natural flavour has been expunged.
By contrast, taste something that you’ve personally worked hard to grow (not to mention water!) and just picked, and you enter a whole new dimension of taste and freshness.
Soaring temperatures this year have made it particularly good for loganberries. A hybrid between a raspberry and a blackberry, if eaten absolutely ripe when they’ve turned a delicate shade of purple, this is a mouth-exploding fragrant berry bursting experience you will never forget. Like all good fruit, they won’t ripen on demand. So you will have a glut. After every manner of berry-based desert has been cooked, served with lashings of cream or stuffed on to a meringue, mixed into ice cream or baked in a fruit pie, you’ll have to find another use.
In one recent picking session I ended up with over three pounds of ripe fruit. Unlike an investment bank, where jam tomorrow means you’re never going to get a pay rise, this means it’s time to get the pans out.
From garden to jar
Some recipes say you should have equal quantities of fruit and sugar. I disagree. I go with 65 per cent fruit, 35 per cent sugar. To ensure you’ll still have a jam-like end-product there are two important steps. The first is to tip the sugar over the fruit. Leave it for an hour and then stir in the pan and leave it overnight to macerate. Second is to add the juice of one lemon. That heightens the taste and adds natural pectin.
The cooking process is straightforward. Bring to the boil, skim off the gunk, and bring back to the boil until you get the temperature to 105 degrees Celsius. Slap a dollop on a plate you stuck in the freezer and if it gets a bit jellylike within a minute . . . you’re done. Ready to eat. On toast. On a crumpet. In a sandwich. Dolloped in natural yoghurt. Whichever way you consume, the flavour will invade your senses in such a way as to make all the growing, picking, washing, cooking and mess worth it.
You can’t buy that taste sensation. But you can give it to friends and neighbours (and even your long-suffering housekeeper!) and they will genuinely be pleased if it’s as good as mine. However, be careful. Too much of a rolling boil and you will end up with a jelly, not a jam. Wendy would not be impressed with that.
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