Jam it: what makes a great jam and how to pick one out next time you’re looking.
Posted by Jane De Graaff on November 25, 2011.
From colour to texture, Food Guru asks some jam experts how to spot the best kind of spread
There’s something beguiling about the jewel like colours of a beautifully prepared jam. The sapphire of a good blueberry, the ruby red of a sticky sweet strawberry and the topaz of a tart marmalade.
But it seems it isn’t just the colour that’s important when it comes to picking a good spread. So what do you look for when selecting the best jam for your money?
Preserving seasonal fruit as jam dates back to Roman times, but surprisingly not much has changed in the way we do it. More surprising still, despite advancements in technology providing us with commercial pectin and sterilising techniques, it seems the best jams are still the ones with a ‘less is more’ kind of attitude.
“I’m 63 years old and I’ve been making jams for over 40 years.” Says veteran jam maker Melanie Collingwood-Boots of Tar10, renowned for their chutneys, preserves and jams.
“But I’ve been making jam for tar10 for three years now. Nothing has changed over the years. The old fashioned way – which shouldn’t be called that- is still the best way to make jam. Its does not change with time and it doesn’t add anything unnecessary to the process.”
For Collingwood-Boots, the best kinds of jam come down to texture and fruit selection.
“Our jams are never processed, so none of our stuff is really uniform, it has texture like it’s come straight from the garden to the jar, and that’s what you want.” She says with conviction.
And Graham Sandilant of Whisk & Pin couldn’t agree more, pointing out that ripe fruit is hugely important.
“With jam we specifically use fruit that is in season, we use only the natural pectin of the fruit, and organic raw sugar, while all our conserves & syrups are made by maximising the most possible fruit that can be cooked into each product - that is it, it’s as simple as that!”
Both jam experts agree that small batch attitude is important too when it comes to getting a good set.
“We have a commercial kitchen,” Says Collingwood-Boots, “but it’s all still done the same way as when I was making just ten jars.” She says. Pointing out that it’s this kind of care that makes the final product better, allowing for careful observation of the jam cooking process.
“Texture. That’s what you want. You can see visually if it’s got a good colour and texture. It has to be chunky. So nothing has changed. The days our grannies were cooking were just the same. These methods are tried and true.”
But the freshness of the fruit will also affect these outcomes and is just as important as the fruit being ripe and in season.
“Freshness of the fruit is extremely important.” Says Collingwood-Boots. “And you need to use it as close to picking time as you can for a better pectin level, better colour and as a result a better set.
And once you’ve found a jam with good colour, set, texture, simple ingredients and flavour, what’s the best way to enjoy it?
“With fresh crusty bread.” Says Collingwood-Boots with relish. “I mean nice bread, for a jam. Marmalade needs to have a good quality sourdough toast. But really, just a lovely chunk of fresh bread with fresh jam. You can’t beat it. It’s a bit naughty.” We couldn’t agree more.
So with summer setting in and so much perfectly ripe fruit around to remind us, maybe it’s time to pay a bit more attention to the jams that fruits become.
Toast’s up. Now… jam, or marmalade?