jam, jelly and marmalade
you will need:
a decent big stainless steel saucepan
a jelly bag, if you are making jelly (you can improvise with a piece of muslin, but a proper bag is good to have if you do much jelly making, and comes in handy in other areas like wine making etc)
pectin (you don't usually need to add pectin, but some recipes need it)
a sugar thermometer (not essential but handy)
making jams, jellies and marmalades are really easy, and you can skip the next two sections if you just want to get on to the making bit...
the science bit
basically, to make jam, jelly or marmalade you need fruit, sugar, pectin and acid. Mostly you will get the acid and pectin from the fruit. Fruit which is sour in taste, or under-ripe is likely to have a higher pectin levels. Fruits which are low in pectin such as pears, can be mixed with higher pectin fruit, but in some cases, such as strawberries, it is a crime to ruin the flavour and better to accept the facts and add pectin.(which is derived from apples anyway so nothing particularly nasty.. just it feels like 'cheating'). Some recipes call for lemon juice to increase the acid.
Some fruit have most of the pectin in its seeds.. so with marmalade, you tie the pips in a muslin bag and cook with the rest of the fruit then remove the bag and proceed.
When these ingredients are boiled together, and excess water boiled off, a chemical reaction happens at about 104 C and the mixture jells - "setting point". If the jam fails to set this is probably due to an imbalance of pectin to acid or not enough cooking happened and setting point was not reached. You can boil a bit more and test again, or add lemon juice or commerical pectin, depending on what you think the problem might be.
You really don't need one to make jam, but they can be useful. If you do decide to get one, don't buy a conventional one with a liquid red bar because they are useless. All of them. Well that's my experience. You keep on cooking and it has not reached anywhere like the right temperature for your fudge or jam or whatever you are making, and then you realise its lying and you have long gone past the point and overcooked your recipe.
If you do make a lot of jams etc, you will soon learn to recognise the signs of setting point.
However I do recommend this thermometer:
It's not particularly cheap, but it is accurate. You can set it to alarm when a certain temperature is reached, you can stick the probe into meat etc, and you can leave the probe inside the oven, and the display stuck with it's magnets onto the oven door, and know how your food is doing without opening the door all the time!. it really is a nice bit of equipment. Having said all that , I still find it reads 103C at jam setting point, but having established this fact.. we get along just fine. (click on image for more info)
Its worth being uber careful about cleanliness... Many people sterilise using the oven. When I had a steamer steriliser for baby bottles it was very handy for jars too... but these days I sterilise with boiling water... So before I start making the jam, I boil the kettle and fill up some jars, place the lids in a jug and fill that, and any funnels etc i might use. Empty the jars just a bit before pouring the jam in - they will still be hot.
the making bit
Chop up your fruit, discarding any cores and manky bits - for jellies you can leave skins and cores in - for marmalades, slice the fruit to the thickness you like the rind and tie pips up in a piece of muslin. Add enough water to just cover. Cook until fruit is soft - soft fruits don't take long - citrus fruits might take an hour or so to soften the rind - it varies. If you are making jelly, it is at this point you put the pulp into your jelly bag and leave to drip into a bowl overnight. Don't squeeze the bag if you want clear jelly.
Measure your fruit/liquid and add an equal volume of white sugar. If you are using pectin, now is when you would add it.. (but again, you don't usually have to add it)
Put some saucers or plates into the freezer. Boil continuously, with your thermometer added (if using). You will notice that the appearance will change - going from 'unlikely looking' to ... well 'looks a bit like jam'. Occasionally dip your wooden spoon into the mixture and bring a spoonful up to eye- level - tip the bowl of the spoon and watch the drips. At first, the drips just run off, but as it approaches setting point, the drips run together to make a bigger drop, and might hang cloggily from the spoon. Alternatively, wait until your thermometer says 103C. Turn off the heat and test on the ice cold saucers by putting a blob on and waiting for it to cool a little - then push with your finger.. if the surface wrinkles..and the blob of jam parts and stays apart.... you are there! (if not - boil a bit more and try again)
If you are making jams with bits in, jellies with additions or marmalade, then you need to wait 5-10 mintues before pouring into your jars, or all the 'bits' will end up at the top. Jar and tighten the lids while still hot. Once cooled, label and store somewhere dark and cool.
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