When I told my friend Shirley I would be making jam, she asked if I’d been watching re-runs of Freinds a lot recently. You remember the episode when Monica goes mad over jam making and ends up making and bottling jars and jars of homemade jam (and joey dipping his fingers in the mix and contaminating a couple of batches?). I wish I were Monica: that woman can cook up a storm and still look gorgeous.
Well, actually it wasn’t Monica I was channeling. Our theme for next month’s (July’s) Don’t Call Me Chef (a monthly column in The Star) is preserved food. Not cooking with preserved food but preserving food: it can be pickles, jam, preserved fruit … the choices were open. Thing is, I’ve never really done it before so it required quite a bit of legwork: I’m a bit anal that way.
I decided to start my research by making a simple jam. Actually, I ‘ve had jam on my “things I have to make) list for quite a few years now. But though poeple say lists help you focus and achieve your goals, my lists just keep on growing … they grow at a rate I doubt I’ll ever be able to catch up. Don’t believe it? I have 150 items on my “things I have to make” list!
So anyway, I did a lot of reading up on jam making and turns out it isn’t complicated. Traditional jam is fruit cooked, usually to a pulp, with sugar to set. That’s it. What you would need is fruit (basically any fruit you fancy though I would be wary of durian for jam!), sugar and lime/lemon juice or vinegar). Some add pectin (to set the jam and get the right consistency) but this really depends as the natural pectin from the fruit is usually quite sufficient for the jam to set.
The sugar content is usually quite high and though you, like me, may consider cutting down on the sugar (fruit is sweet, after all) you may not want to be overzealous in doing so as the sugar actually helps preserve fruit. Reducing the sugar may result in reducing the preserving power of your jam.
I chose to make mango jam simply because I love mangoes are they are in season at the moment and easily available.
1 kg ripe, sweet mangoes
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
Peel and cube mango. Blend 3/4 of the cubed fruit to a puree. I didn’t blend all the fruit as I wanted the jam a little chunky. Mix the pureed+cubed jam with the sugar in a stainless steel bowl and let it stand for 30 mins or longer (to allow the flavours to mix).
Using a heavy bottomed pan (cast iron, anodized aluminium, copper are good) so that the heat is distributed evenly and the sugar does not burn. Add the mango+sugar and cook (med to high heat), stirring ocassionally so that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom.
The mixture will soon bubble up: big, rolling bubbles that rise up the sides of the pot. Should there be a light-coloured foam on the surface, skin it off gently. Stir every now and then. The almost jam should start to boil down and smaller, thicker bubbles will replace the boisterous ones. bubbles.
How long to boil? Well once it boils down and the jam starts to leave the sides of the pan, you can test the consistency by putting a teaspoonful of the hot mixture on to a cold plate. It should set almost immediately. If it’s the consistency you like, it’s almost ready. If not, continue boiling for a bit.
When it reaches the consistency you like, add the lemon juice and stir it in. Turn off the heat and ladle the jam into the sterilised jars – douse the jars and the lid with boiling hot water. Seal the jars tight, place them upside down in about 4 inches of hot water for a few minutes to seal shut. When the jam is cool, store in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator. The jam should last for about 6 months if properly sealed. Once opened it has to be refrigerated.