Get your jam on: the small batch recipe

There is nothing nicer than garden fruit transformed into jam, but it’s best made in small batches


It’s jam making season again. All those pots and jars put aside during the year are now galvanised into action. If you, like me, enthusiastically planted lots of berry bushes (redcurrant, blackcurrant and gooseberry) which, this year produced such a good crop, there is no way that (to use our politicians’ favourite phrase) the “average Irish family” could consume the entirety of this year’s fresh yield. Instead, why not choose to bottle the wonderful flavours, to be reminded of our prolific harvest throughout the year.

There are a couple of tips that make for successful jam and jelly making. I find that I get much better results when I make jam in small quantities – a kilo or two of fruit at a time. Large volumes of fruit and sugar will take a long time to reach setting point, causing the fruit to beak up and eventually dissolve in the jam. The colour will also be affected and give a much darker jam.

The fruit should be dry and in good shape – not bruised – slightly under-ripe is better as pectin levels will be higher

Use a large heavy-based saucepan, at least twice the size of the ingredients, so that when the jam is boiling it won’t boil over onto your hob. Removing burnt jam from the hob may very well turn you off jam making. Always make sure the sugar is completely dissolved before bringing to a boil. If not, the result will be grainy.

Ensure all equipment you use is clean. For jelly making always boil-wash the muslin or jelly bag before using. Here are some explanations of jam making lingo:

Setting point
To test for setting: Place a small plate or saucer in to the fridge for 15 minutes. Pour a spoonful of the hot jam or jelly on to the plate and return to the fridge for five minutes. Push the edges of the jam with your index finger; it is set when it is all wrinkly. Always test for setting point at the time the recipe suggests, and if not set, continue to cook, checking every five minutes. Don’t overcook. If boiled for too long the preserve will darken and caramelise.

Skin any scum that rises to the surface only when setting point is reached. Skim with a ladle or add a tiny piece of butter and stir. This will dissolve the scum instantly.

Settling time
Always leave the jam to settle off the heat for 15 minutes once setting point is reached.

Always use clean, sterilised jars and lids. To sterilise, wash thoroughly in hot soapy water, rinse well and place upside-down in a warm oven (100 degrees/gas ¼) for at least half an hour.

Sealing and storing
Cover the surface of the jam in the jar with a wax disc. This helps prevent mould forming during storage. Seal the jar with a tight-fitting lid or cellophane disc secured with an elastic band. Store in a cool, preferably dark place. Only store in the refrigerator once opened.

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