HOW TO PRESERVE

August 31, 2017

HOW TO PRESERVE : Jams, jellies, marmalades and fruit curds

From the traditional practices of old to delicious low-sugar jams, BBC Good Food columnist Gerard Baker provides a perfect starting point for fans of fruit-filled sweet preserves with plenty of ideas and practical advice to inspire you.

Jams, curds and bottled fruits have come a long way from the days when they were simply used to preserve fruits for the winter months – they’re a great way to add something special to everyday breakfasts, and add flavour, colour and texture to desserts and baking. And making your own preserves at home lets you choose exactly what goes into them, how much sugar you use – and lets you experiment with different ingredients and make up your own tasty flavour combinations. One of the most common ways to preserve fruit uses sugar, as it helps bring out the flavour of fruits while also acting as a preservative. But it is also very easy to make lower sugar preserves using simple home bottling techniques, which make delicious, healthier alternatives.

Seasonal fruit will always give you the best value for money and the best flavour. By making preserves from just-picked produce, you’ll capture the best of each season – and be able to enjoy the deliciously fresh flavours of seasonal fruits all year round.

It’s hard to imagine not being able to buy fruit all year round, but less than a hundred years ago the only fruit available to generations of cooks during the winter months would have been stored apples and pears – and whatever they had been able to preserve from the summer.

the history of preserving jam makingTHE HISTORY OF PRESERVING 

Over the centuries, cooks have been drawn to the beauty of fruit jellies, and the magical preserving qualities of honey and sugar. However, it took centuries for gardeners to develop the lush, sweet modern fruits we are so familiar with today.
When using old recipes, it is always worth remembering that the varieties available to us are often sweeter and less acidic – they are bred to be. Most traditional recipes required fruit to be cooked for a long time before sugar was added, often in the ratio of 1:1. Such recipes result in a finished jam of around 65% sugar, which will keep for a long time in a cool dry place.

HOW DO I CHOOSE WHAT TO PRESERVE?

Seasonal fruit will always give you the best value for money and the best flavour. The list below indicates when the different fruits are in season.

Spring  Summer Autumn  Winter
Rhubarb All berries Blackberries Tropical fruits
Citrus fruits Apricots Raspberries Citrus fruits
Stored apples Plums Quinces Stored apples
Stored pears  Figs Apples Stored pears
  Peaches Pears Forced rhubarb
  Cherries    
  Currants    

jam tarts jam making preserving

What quantities should I try?
It is always best to use relatively small quantities of fruit when preserving because they will take less time to cook and therefore have a fresher flavour. Quantities of around 1kg of fruit for a batch of jam are perfect. If you have a particular favourite, by all means make several batches but don’t be tempted to make a single massive batch – they just don’t work as well as they take too long to cook.

Fruits
When you are choosing fruits to preserve, make sure that they are fresh and flavourful. Choose slightly under-ripe fruit in shops – by the time you get it home and make the jam or curd it will probably have softened up. Fruit that is overripe will often lack acidity, so adjust the recipe with a little additional lemon juice to achieve a good flavour towards the end of cooking.

Sugar
There are many types of sugar available to the home cook, but generally white jam sugar is the best to use for jams as it gives a good set and the best flavour with limited cooking. For curds, caster sugar is recommended as it will dissolve easily. Marmalades are usually made with either granulated sugar or preserving sugar, which give good clarity to the finished preserve.

Pectin
Various types of pectin are available to the home cook, and are usually derived from apples or other fruits that are high in pectin. Liquid pectin is widely available, and an increasing range of powdered pectin is also available. Jam sugar has powdered pectin added to it, and is therefore useful for making jams with low-acidity fruits.

STERILIZING EQUIPMENT

It is important to use scrupulously clean and sterile jars for preserving. If using jars with rubber seals, immerse them in gently simmering water before use – five minutes should do the trick. Leave to drain upside down for a few minutes before filling and then seal immediately with boiled lids. As long as you fill the jar when the contents are hot, they should be fine.

To be absolutely sure that your jam will keep for a long time, use the Ball® Preserving Starter Kit to ‘bottle’ your jams. 

HOW TO STORE

As soon as you have potted up your preserves, it is a good idea to give them a good wash in hot water to remove any spills or dribbles. Dry them thoroughly before storing. Like most foods, preserves are best stored at an even, cool temperature, and to preserve their colour they are best kept in the dark. Box them up and store them in a spare room, shed, cellar or even a spare fridge if you have room. Low or no sugar preserves are best stored as directed in your recipe.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What basic equipment will I need?
A deep, stainless steel preserving pan is ideal for all jams and marmalades. For accurate temperature measurements, a digital temperature probe is essential.

Can I reuse old jam jars?
Yes, although it is best to only use jars that have clean and rust-free lids. For fruit bottling, it is essential to only use specially designed jars – Lakeland stocks a wide variety of preserving jars that are ideal.

Can I use a brass preserving pan?
It is not a good idea to use any metal other than stainless steel for preserving. The acids in fruits can react with other metals and taint your jams.

How long can I store home-made preserves?
Generally speaking, jams and marmalades with a high sugar content (i.e. where the ratio of sugar to fruit is 1:1) will keep for several months. Fruit curds will keep for up to one month in a cool place, but all curds and low-sugar jams should be stored in the fridge once opened and consumed within one or two weeks.

Are home-made preserves more economical than shop bought?
Yes, much more – and you can use your imagination to create lots of wonderful flavour combinations too.

Can I use any fruits to make jam?
Yes, although you will find that sharp – or lightly acidic – fruits make the best jams. Very sweet fruits, such as ripe peaches, don’t make good jam unless you like it particularly sweet.

Why does my jam or marmalade weep?
Sometimes a light syrup can seep from a preserve. This is known as weeping and is caused by an excess of acid, and is commonly seen in marmalades. It is not harmful and the syrup can simply be stirred into the preserve.

What is pectin and do I need it to make good preserves?
Pectin is a naturally occurring setting agent found in plant cell walls. When fruit is cooked, as in the early stage of jam-making, pectin is released into the juices. As sugar is added and water evaporates from the juices, the strands of pectin form a gel that helps jam to set. Acidic fruits such as blackcurrants will usually set quickly, while less acidic ones such as strawberries will take much longer and require additional acid – usually lemon juice – to help achieve a good set.

Can I use honey or sugar substitutes to make jam?
Yes, you can. Honey was the most widely used sweetener for preserves until the 19th century, when sugar became cheaper and more widely available. Honey will add its own flavour and additional moisture to the preserve, meaning that you will have to cook it for longer to achieve a good set.
Artificial sweeteners can also be used to make preserves, but in general they will not keep as well and are best frozen in small containers or bottled.

Why do some recipes require a knob of butter?
Some cooks do suggest using a knob of butter to help reduce the amount of froth or foam that occurs with particularly fibrous fruits such as strawberries. Although it is wise to continually skim foam from the surface of the jam as it cooks, a little knob of butter added at the end of cooking will help distribute any remaining foam throughout the jam.

How do home bottling techniques differ from traditional preserving?
Bottling involves putting the cooked preserve or heated fruit in syrup into special jars which are then immersed into a bath of simmering water for a period of time. The hot water sterilizes the contents by superheating the air space left in the top of the jar, killing any microbes. By using this technique you can effectively sterilize lower sugar jams that would normally only keep for a few days. See the chapter on low sugar jams and bottling techniques for instructions.

EQUIPMENT 

The key thing when preserving is to have all your ingredients ready, your jars washed and clean… and to remove any distractions. It is also worthwhile investing in some simple equipment to help you make your preserves – and then store them safely.

stainless steel maslin jam pans

Pans
It’s useful to have one or two large pans when you’re making preserves. This is particularly the case when you’re using a water bath to sterilize your jams. A stainless steel pan is by far the best option – other metals will react with the acidity in the fruits you use and your jam will be tainted. Lakeland’s maslin pans are ideal as they come with volume measurements on the inside, making them especially useful when measuring mixtures.

Spoons
A stainless steel spoon that can be hung on the side of your pan is very useful for making preserves, particularly as the metal does not absorb flavours. If you do prefer wooden cooking implements, keep the ones you use for preserving separate to avoid contamination by strong flavours. A slotted spoon is also really useful for skimming foam from the surface of jam and marmalade as they cook.

Thermometers
A digital probe is essential for any recipe that requires heating your mix to an exact temperature.

Strainers and funnels
Strainers are invaluable for sieving cooked fruits before making jellies, and funnels will help you fill your jars easily and cleanly.

Jars and bottles
Lakeland stocks a wide variety of jam and preserving jars, including a range of Ball preserving jars that are ideal for long-keeping preserves and spare lids so you can reuse the same jars again and again.

Our expert, Gerard Baker, has developed a range of delicious, easy-to-follow preserving recipes especially for Lakeland. From classic strawberry jam to bottled berries to passion fruit and clementine curd, they’re a great way to treat yourself – and also make lovely gifts with a truly personal touch for family and friends. “Give them a try – they’re a great way to enjoy fresh fruit flavours, whatever the season.” You’ll find all Gerards’s recipe in our How To Preserve book. 

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