Jams and Jellies…

It’s suddenly started to turn autumnal here (excuse to add a picture of some of my recent sewing! I’m busy, busy, busy over at The Linen Cat), the mornings have gone a bit chilly and if the sun doesn’t come out it feels quite fresh throughout the day.  To coincide I am treating myself to reading the Autumn section of the book ‘The Magic Apple Tree‘ by Susan Hill, oh how I love this book and I have been eeking it out, saving each Season section to read in time with our own progressing year.  It has appeared as a favourite on many bloggers pages and I once read an extract in a magazine and marked if for my own reading list.  It’s a beautiful description of country life in Susan’s village and garden and I think she might be to blame for my recent run on jam and jelly making as it also contains the odd recipe, sadly I believe it’s out of print (why!?), but I managed to get a second hand copy from Amazon.

I decided to have a go at the included recipe for Plum, Orange and Walnut Jam as I do like jam with nuts in and the local shop has loads of British plums on offer at the moment.  I only made a half batch as I will be the only person eating this jam so I want to enjoy it and not feel pressured into making sure it’s all eaten whilst in it’s prime, I’d rather run out wanting more than be finding jars in the back of the cupboard in a few years time looking sad and past it’s best.  I have changed the method a little so suit my needs, such as slicing the zest of the orange instead of the whole peel (it makes it quicker to cook).

Plum, Orange and Walnut Jam

(Put some saucers in the freezer)

1.350 Kg Plums

1.100 Kg Sugar

2 Oranges

225 g Walnuts, chopped.

Stone the plums and put the halves into a large pan, setting the stones aside for later.

Use a peeler to remove the zest of the oranges, slice this as thinly as possible then add to the plums.  Juice the oranges (add this to the pan as well) then cut the remaining orange zest and pips roughly and tie into a muslin along with the reserved plum stones – guess what? – yep, add to the pan.

Finally also add 300 ml of water, then bring to the boil and simmer until the zest is soft (as with marmalade, if you add the sugar too soon it will toughen up the zest making it chewy and too hard), the plums need less cooking time so they will definitely be ready when the zest is, this took me about 30 mins.

Turn down the heat and add the sugar, heat very slowly, stirring occasionally until all the sugar has dissolved and there are no crystals left.

Bring to a rolling boil and boil rapidly for approx 10 mins, adding the nuts just before you remove the pan from the heat.  Test for a set by putting a blob onto one of your frozen saucers, after cooling for a moment it should form a skin that wrinkles when pushed with your finger, this means it’s set, otherwise rapid boil for a few more minutes (4 – ish) them remove from the heat and test for a set again. Repeat until setting point is reached.

Now, once ready I waited about 5 mins in an attempt to try and allow it to cool enough for the nuts to not float to the surface, I failed.  I think next time I’ll treat it the same way I do marmalade and leave it to cool about 15-20 mins, then put it into it’s jam jars (sterilized in a 150 degree oven on a tray with the lids for at least 5 mins) before sealing with wax discs and lids.

Despite the final jam being top heavy with the nuts it tastes great and is one I will make again.

Whilst I was on a roll and had everything out I also made some apple and herb jelly.  I wanted to make a batch that I then split between apple & mint and apple & thyme jelly so I didn’t add the herbs until the last stages (see the notes).

Apple and Herb Jelly

1.5 Kg cooking apples

Granulated sugar

100 ml cider vinegar

I medium bunch of your chosen herbs (sage, rosemary, mint, thyme etc)

Roughly chop the apples, including peel, cores and pips and add to a pan with just enough water to cover (if you are making a single herb jelly you should also add the herbs now).  Bring to the boil and simmer gently, uncovered for about 1 hour, the fruit needs to be very soft.

Tip the (cooled) contents into a muslin suspended over a bowl for a few hours, ideally overnight and don’t squeeze if you would like your finished jelly to be clear.

Put a couple of saucers into the freezer and have your cleaned jars and lids ready on a baking tray ready to sterilize in the oven.

Measure the strained juice and for every 600 ml, you will need 450g sugar (don’t add it yet!).  

At this stage I split my juice into 2 batches and gently heated each with my chosen herbs, half with mint and the other with thyme, I put the herbs into a large tea strainer so as to keep the jelly clear and them removed it after a few minutes to start the next step of the recipe, which I made in half batches (so 50 ml of vinegar per batch etc).

Return the juice to a clean pan with the vinegar, heat until boiling point and then add the sugar, stir and simmer gently until dissolved.  Once all the sugar crystals are gone, rapid boil the jelly until setting point is reached, which should be about 10-12 mins.  Remove from the heat and remove any scum from the surface with a slotted spoon.

Check for a set by putting a small blob of the jam onto one of the saucers from the freezer, leave it for a few minutes and push with your finger, if a skin has formed that wrinkles then the jam is ready, if not you need to boil for a few more minutes then test again.

At this stage I added some chopped herbs to the mixtures as I think it looks pretty and let it cool slightly so the herbs stage suspended nicely in the jelly once set.

Pour into warm sterilised jars (heated for 15 mins in a medium oven, or used directly from a washing machine cycle and whilst still warm), seal with wax discs and lids.

We tested it at the weekend when I roasted some pork and it tastes delicious, it’s a beautiful golden pink jelly and is somehow very ‘light’ and delicate.  I can understand why people may make  it with chopped rose petals added instead of herbs, I have a slight aversion to rose flavours in food (makes me think of Granny chocolates!) but I imagine it works really well.

I am really looking forward to making crab apple jelly in a while and some medlar jelly from our new tree when the fruit is ready, guess what everyone will be getting for Christmas from us this year 😉

OK so for all those living in the UK, and especially in the South you may realise this post was written a good few weeks ago (sorry, bit behind in finishing it) as we are now in the middle of a late heat wave, what happened to Autumn?  Ah well, I’ll be making the most whilst I can and spending some time tidying up the rather messy garden.