Monday, December 5, 2011

Learning life skills: Raspberry Jam with Kirsch

Really, I'm not biased - it's just a fact that my Mum makes the best jams and preserves in the whole world. Since I was back in the country for the holidays, I told her it was high time she passed on her skills to the next generation, so we had a jam-making session after picking two kilos of fresh berries in the Otways. I can’t wait for the local strawberry farm to start harvesting (usually the week before Christmas) so we can have a crack at Strawberry Jam with Grand Marnier, which is another family favourite.

We stuck these leftover raspberries in the freezer to include in a summer pudding for Christmas

1.5 kg raspberries
1.5 kg sugar (measurements need to be EXACT – sugar acts as a preservative here, so don’t wing it… use scales!)
Juice of 2 large lemons
2 tbsp kirsch (cherry-flavoured clear liqueur that noone outside of Germany ever consumes apart from in jams and desserts)

You’ll need at least 8 empty jars and lids for this recipe, a heavy-based stock pot, a baking tray and a metal pouring jug. A saucer and a metal funnel will considerably minimise mess during the bottling process.
There are several ways you can seal the jars so as to preserve the jam for years to come – Mum only uses wax because her mother used wax; I will use wax because my mother uses wax… you get the picture. (I’ve concluded that jam making is like Judaism – a knowledge tradition passed down through maternal generations.) You can also cellophane moistened with water and vinegar and stretched over the top of the jar and secured with an elastic band.

1. You always hear about the need to ‘sterilise’ jars before they’re filled up and sealed, but washing jars and lids thoroughly - dishwasher is ideal - will do the job; no need to autoclave that shiz. You’ll still need to warm them in the oven while the jam’s cooking because otherwise the hot jam might break the glass, and that would be shattering (har har).

2. Recipes usually say to wash the fruit and leave to drain in a colander, but when you’ve picked your berries that morning, don’t bother – raspberries are not exactly targets for mud or bird poo, and they’ll get pretty waterlogged if washed. Quality control of berries should occur at the picking stage, anyway. Saying this, I will add that my parents brought me up to completely disregard used-by dates, and I generally relax the ‘10-second rule’ out to 3-5 minutes… so suit yourself. If there’s any dirt or foreign matter in the fruit mixture it’ll float to the top and form a scum while the jam is boiling – like when you’re cooking meat bones for stock – which you can remove with a metal spoon.

3. Warm the sugar on a baking tray in the oven – apparently it’s meant to help set the jam, but it’s more likely it helps the sugar dissolve faster when added to the fruit mix. (Expert jam makers will proffer a tonne of secret tips you won’t read in recipe books – sure, their scientific bearings might be questionable, but best follow them anyway to safeguard against crappy jam consistency.)

4. Put the raspberries and lemon juice in a saucepan/big boiling pot and bring to the boil.

5. Add the (heated) sugar and cook, stirring until the sugar dissolves. This should take a few minutes. Resist the urge to lick the spoon at this time, as mixture will have the temperature of molten lava and your tongue will be ulcerated for at least three days. Spoken from experience, obviously.

6. This phase of boiling the mixture (don’t use a lid!) can take between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on your cooking equipment, and will dictate the eventual jam consistency. Mum cooks hers on an Aga slow-combustion stove (otherwise known as her One True Love), which has a hot plate and a simmer plate. “The Aga cookbook says to do the jam on the simmer plate, but I do it on the hot plate. And the jam boiler cooks it quicker than a normal pot,” says Mum.
“Beverly Sutherland Smith says it’s better to have runny jam and retain the flavour rather than boiling the guts out of it so that it’s thicker,” she adds. If Beverly Sutherland Smith (otherwise known as eminent Australian cookery writer) said “jump off a cliff”, I’m pretty confident Mum would be there, jam boiler and wooden spoon in hand, ready for dismount.

7. You’ll see some scummy floaties gathering on top of the mix, like when you’re making stock. Take pot off the boil and use a metal spoon to remove. Mum said some people put butter in the jam mixture, which apparently dissolves the scum. We agreed this was a bit gross, and you should just skim the scum with a spoon. You’ll need to do this a couple of times during cooking.

We have a slight obsession with the Aga stove - note Aga boiling pot, Aga hot plate covers, Aga oven mitt, Aga kettle

8. THE ‘SAUCER TEST’: To test how it’s thickening up, take a teaspoon of the mixture onto a saucer and place in the freezer. Once it’s cool, push the edge of the jam with your finger and if it forms a skin and wrinkles, it’s starting to thicken.

Saucer test 1: no wrinkling

For what it’s worth, we did two saucer tests, then removed scum, kept boiling, then did another wrinkle test and another scum removal. (I was dubious on the degree of wrinkling, but Mum – and Beverly Sutherland Smith – won that battle).

Saucer test 3: enough 'wrinkling' to take mixture off the heat

9. Once it’s reached setting point, stir in the kirsch and remove from heat. Quite frankly I don’t think the kirsch makes any difference, but it looks a bit more exotic on the jam label, and everything’s better with a bit of booze, right?

10. Cover with a cloth (rather than a lid) and sit outside to cool for “about 10 minutes”, says Mum. Ensure any pets or wildlife are kept well away. If you bottle the jam straight off the heat without cooling first, all the fruit will float to the top – not such a problem with raspberry jam, but really obvious with apricot or strawberry jam, and a sure-fire route to disqualification in the Country Women’s Association preserves competitions.

Well-trained dog stays away from cooling jam misture

11. Now you’re ready to bottle the jam. Mum reckons her metal jam funnel is the best thing she’s ever bought. (I would counter that her reading glasses, and children’s private school education were much more significant investments, but that’s just me...) When pouring the jam into the prepared jars, fill to where the screw/lip bit starts (at least 7mm from the top). If you over-fill, spoon out excess with a spoon. If using sealing wax, leave jars to cool for a bit before the next step.

Bottling the jam

12. Melt sealing wax on stove in a metal jug. (We used half a container of wax for this batch; yes, I’m being vague – deal with it.) Pour about 5mm of wax into the top of each jar, and then seal with lid.

Jam jars ready for sealing wax

This recipe comes from Pot O’Jam by Maureen Kirwan (1983, Prendergast McCulloch Publishers). Ms Kirwan deserves mad props for incorporating liqueurs into nearly every jam recipe in the book, including Lemon Butter with Advokaat and Cumquat Marmalade with Gin.

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