Monday, August 19, 2013

In Praise of Jam

Recently I have rediscovered  the simple pleasure of Jam. Growing up in the pre-industrialised Ireland of the 1960's and 70's jam, often home made,  was a staple of our diet and one of our few regular treats. The vast array of manufactured delicacies now available have sadly reduced the importance of jam and the shelf space allocated to it in shops. I myself neglected it for decades but the increasing health consciousness of middle age encouraged my re-acquaintance with this delicious food as a better alternative to cholesterol laden pastries and biscuits. Fibre rich wholemeal bread covered in jam may not exactly be good for you but it is better than many alternative treats and does not come with a payload of artery clogging saturated fat.
 
When it comes to flavour I tend towards traditional fruits:  I believe that blackcurrant jam has the best flavour of all jams although the pulped berries do give it a somewhat uneven texture. Raspberry jam is also a very strong contender with excellent flavour and superb seedy texture.

I have never been a fan of strawberry jam. To my palate it has a somewhat bland flavour and the texture is always lumpy. I did enjoy some very high quality home made strawberry jam once and it came out of the pots brown. This has prejudiced me against the bright scarlet jams found on supermarket shelves even though I believe that the red colour can be preserved well enough  with purely natural additives.

Apricot jam is a favourite in may countries although it wasn't common in Ireland when I was growing up. I do like it better than strawberry but not as much as blackcurrant or raspberry.

Gooseberries also make very good jam and it is always surprising that these sour green berries can make a delicious red jam. 

There are of course a vast range of jams available in all price ranges and qualities. Happily I have found that one simple parameter can be used as an almost infallible guide to the quality of a jam. Look for a product with around 50g of fruit per 100g. Significantly less than this indicates a cheap sugar rich product that lacks flavour. Significantly more than 50g becomes less of a jam and more of a fruit conserve.

The better mass produced jams actually stick to this 50g formula and to my taste the best of them are just as good as the expensive artisan jams on offer. Perhaps this is because the simplicity of the jam making process (boil fruit and sugar in a large vessel) lends itself to mass production. There are of course intangible benefits to artisan jam. It is always feels good to enjoy a hand made product and artisan jam makers often offer unusual and creative flavours.

I have no time for the clear, fruit free spreads that American's call jelly. To my mind removing the fruit pulp removes all enjoyment from the spread. I do have time for the citrus fruit preserves known as marmalades but that is a story for another day.

3 comments:

Gankalicious said...

It's a dark day in my house when I run out of Rhubarb jam, let me tell you.... I make my own so I always use the minimum sugar allowed. I make so much at one time I usually can go 2 years without making more :) Cheap summer fruit means I will spice it up from time to time mixing in store-bought strawberries with home-grown rhubarb. mmmmmmm jam.

mbp said...

Ah yes - Rhubarb is another surprising plant that makes a delicious jam.

When I was a child we made jam in our house every year (we had our own berry garden) but I must hang my head in shame and admit I have never done so as an adult. Its not too late perhaps to rectify that.

Gankalicious said...

It's never too late! I never made jam growing up but learned with the River Cottage Preserves Handbook. It walks you through it and has great recipes.

http://www.rivercottage.net/users/River%20Cottage%20Preserves%20Handbook/