Our home-grown blackcurrants were ready and ripe over the weekend, so DJ decided to harvest the lot and put them all in a big bowl in the fridge. There were hundreds of them. In previous years we’ve barely noticed that they were ready before the chickens sneaked in and gobbled them all, but this year there’s been a massive crop. When we went to weigh them there were over 3 1bs (1.3kg) of fruit to deal with.
On Saturday night DJ made a delicious blackcurrant sauce by heating it up with some sugar and lashings of brandy, which we poured over some ice cream, but this barely made a dent in the harvest. We thought about freezing them but there were simply too many to fit in our relatively small freezer, so on Wednesday I decided to make jam.
Sounds like such a simple undertaking, doesn’t it? Jam-making has such a sedate reputation. It conjures up visions of cardigans and the Women’s Institute. Believe me, after yesterday afternoon, I will never look at the WI in the same way again. I already had respect for them – while not a jam-maker, my mother is WI president in her town in Northern Ireland – but it is now renewed.
I am not a jam virgin. I have made jam before, just not with blackcurrants. But blackcurrants apparently have a mind of their own. The problem was that, after simmering the blackcurrants in water (1.3kg of blackcurrants and 475g water) in a pan for half an hour with the rind and juice of one orange (after bringing the mixture to the boil), I realised that the 1.3kg of sugar wasn’t going to fit in the same pan. So I was forced to pour half the mixture into another pan. That’s when the mess began.
Despite my attempts to keep a neat and tidy kitchen, it wasn’t long before the whole place had turned into a psychedelic blackcurrant nightmare. Over the weekend I had tutted at DJ after finding splodges of blackcurrant on the floor when he made his sauce. But now there was blackcurrant on the kitchen surfaces, the walls, the floor, all over the cooker, on the cupboard doors, on my jeans and even my socks. The seal under the kitchen tiles behind the hob is stained purple, as are two of our pans, wooden spoons and the chopping board. Blackcurrants, it seems, like to be noticed. After a while, I began to panic a bit.
I panicked even more when I realised that I couldn’t find my sugar thermometer anywhere. DJ had bought me one a few years ago, but it has mysteriously disappeared from the kitchen drawer. I wondered if it could have ended up in his brewing kit somehow, but my frantic search drew a blank. Instead I had to rely on the instructions in the recipe in my book The Complete Book of Preserves and Pickles by Catherine Atkinson & Maggie Mayhew. They told me to bring the jam to the boil after dissolving the sugar and cook it for eight minutes, by which time it should reach the setting point.
Then I had to take the pans off the heat and leave them for five minutes before pouring the jam into the jars. I’d sterilised six jars in the oven before I began making the jam but quickly realised that I needed nine. I ended up quickly sterilising three more jars and filling them. It seems ridiculous, but afterwards, when I’d put the jars aside and done my best to mop up the rest of the purple stains in the kitchen, I felt like I’d gone ten rounds with Muhammad Ali. So much for jam-making being a relaxing pastime.
But the Billericay Blackcurrant Massacre in the kitchen may have been worth it. On the frugal front, we should save some money on our jam intake. We have nine jars at a cost of £1.69 for the sugar, 48p for the orange and nothing for the blackcurrants which were already established in the garden when we moved her six years’ ago. So that works out at 24p per jar. Annoyingly I realised this morning that it hasn’t set properly, but I have found a handy recipe on the internet to fix it, although the cost of the pectin will add an additional few pence to the final cost of my jam.
Are you a jam-maker? What are your favourite recipes and tips? Leave a message and let me know.
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