Saturday, 28 July 2012

Challenge Number 29: Make jam or marmalade

Well, this was an unmitigated disaster.

One of the many things I miss about my mum is her raspberry jam. It remains the finest I’ve ever tasted. She also made delicious marmalade, though it was advisable to be out that day as it always put her in a bad mood.

I’d never made jam myself, despite my friend Becky having bought me the Best-Kept Secrets Of The Women’s Institute: Jams, Pickles and Chutneys book for my 30th birthday. I think her implication was that I was hitting middle age, which makes me worried about what I might be hitting now that I’m nearly 40. I did have a go at courgette chutney three years ago, when our allotment-owning neighbour left a marrow the size of an airship on our front doorstep. And though I say so myself, the chutney came out rather well. Even my dad liked it. This inspired me to ask for a jam pan the following Christmas. But soon after Christmas I found out I was pregnant, felt like crap, and the jam pan has remained in its box ever since.

So to celebrate the start of the Olympics, I decided to have my very first go at making jam. I chose the very British flavour of raspberry and rhubarb. I was even going to go and pick the fruit myself, but Charlotte woke up from her afternoon nap in such a foul mood that it was just easier to drive to the farm shop, show her their pet goats and chickens, grab some punnets of fruit, buy her a chocolate car, and leave as quickly as possible. She was marginally cheered up when the Red Arrows suddenly flew over, at least.

Waiting for the BBC coverage of the Olympics opening ceremony to stop being boring interviews and start being Danny Boyle, I weighed everything out and started cooking. And I was really quite surprised by just how much sugar is in jam. I thought I was following the Women’s Institute instructions very well. And I managed to sterilise some jars without smashing them. But then the jam would not reach the right temperature, and it continually failed all of its setting point tests. At the point it was about to boil over the side of the pan and a stench of acrid sugar began to fill the air, I gave up and just poured it into jars. It looked like jam. I’d made jam. Unfortunately, it’s disgusting jam. Unless you like burnt caramel with a slight tinge of raspberry. In which case, it’s probably all right, and you’re more than welcome to a jar. Even Dave, who is ever the diplomat and always tries to be complimentary about my cooking, said on dipping his finger into it, “Well, it was just your first attempt.”

I’m spending this morning trying to clean the black beyond-goo that’s stop-welded to the bottom of the jam pan. My mother and grandmother are probably turning in their respective graves at my hopelessness. I wish they were still here to tell me what I did wrong. The internet has provided some answers (and some helpful hints on cleaning jam pans) and it’s clear that this sort of outcome happens a lot. So I feel a bit better about it. The Women’s Institute didn’t bother to tell me that I might need to STIR the jam at some point. Or that I should maybe warm the sugar first. Or that I should cook the fruit very very gently before adding the sugar. This must be why I am not a member of the Women’s Institute. You’re just supposed to know this stuff.

What was stuck to the bottom of the pan

It’s annoying to have wasted quite so much delicious Balloon Tree fruit. I’d have been better off just mashing up the raspberries to smear on my toast instead. And now I understand why my mother always ended up in such a bad mood on marmalade-making day. Hopefully, if I brave a marmalade marathon during Seville Orange season, I’ll have a bit more clue what I’m doing.

On a more positive note, here’s some more bread for challenge 34 (= bake 40 loaves of bread in a year):

Loaf 13: Honey and sunflower wholemeal loaf

Loaf 14: Another honey and sunflower loaf, baked overnight to greet us the next morning

Loaf 15: Cheesy courgette loaf, a staple on our summer menu (baked in the oven)

Loaf 16: A rapid-bake white loaf

And here is my broad bean crop (from challenge number five - grow something new) in action, mixed into mushroom and pancetta pasta with home-made pesto and crème fraiche:

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