Category Archives: Riverford pickles & preserves blog

A collection of tips and ideas from Riverford cooks on best practice for pickles & preserves

top jam tips – now is the time for making jam!

The sky has turned an unusual colour (blue), the thermometer is soaring to new heights and at last summer fruits are appearing in abundance after the long cold spring – this is the time to make jam!

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ask Anna 
Anna Colquhoun, our preserving expert, shares her jam-making tips below and talks about why now is the time to start bubbling up a batch of jam while summer fruit is in abundance around us. If you have any questions just comment on our blog, our Riverford Facebook page or tweet!

The one problem with summer holidays abroad is that you miss out on eating and cooking with local summer produce. (Every year I nurture a row of tomato plants for months only to be away for the bulk of the crop.) Our summer season is short, so to make the most of it I recommend turning your hand to jamming now.

We’ve just held my summer preserving workshops in London. It was so satisfying producing row after row of beautiful filled jars, including strawberry & rhubarb jam, stunning bottled cherries and glowing lemon curd. Many hands indeed make light work. So I suggest getting together a group of friends for a jamming session, or coming to my next Riverford Autumn Preserving workshops in October!

The flavour and beauty of summer treats like cherries, strawberries, raspberries, currants, rhubarb, apricots and gooseberries can all be preserved for months to come with nothing much more than sugar, jars and a large pan. Read on for my top jamming tips…

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fruit
It should go without saying that you should use beautiful, good quality fruit. Wash carefully, cut out any rotten patches and chop into even pieces. I’m not a huge fan of gimmicky jams. (You know the sort, like Tesco’s Cosmo and Daiquiri ‘Mocktail’ preserves.) However, judicious use of vanilla pods, fresh bay leaves or sprays of lemon verbena can work a treat in with the fruit.

pectin
You need pectin for jam to set. Some fruits are naturally high in pectin, such as gooseberries and currants. Others, including strawberries, rhubarb and sweet cherries, have very little so you need to add it. Apricots and raspberries are somewhere in between so might need a little if you want a firmer set. It’s easiest simply to substitute some or all of the sugar in your recipe with ‘jam sugar’, which has pectin in it.

sugar
To make a jam that will last on the shelf (unopened) rather than needing refrigeration, use approximately 1kg sugar for every 1kg of fruit. Regular, white granulated is best, or ‘jam sugar’ (see above). Don’t use caster; you might be tempted as you imagine it will dissolve faster, but it’s more likely to catch and burn at the bottom of the pan. The first step is to dissolve every last grain of sugar with minimal heat. You can even macerate the chopped fruit in the sugar in the fridge overnight to start the process. This works especially well for strawberries and helps preserve their shape in the finished jam.
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acid
For the pectin to work it needs acid. Most fruit is naturally acidic, but some need the juice of a couple of lemons to help the jam set properly, including strawberries, apricots, sweet cherries, raspberries and – rather surprisingly – rhubarb. Add it to your jam mixture in the pot.

heat
Once all the sugar is dissolved, crank up the heat, boil furiously but watch that it doesn’t boil over. This is why you need a big pan! I found my beautiful old copper preserving pan in my parents’ garage by chance (thanks Mum), which is fortunate since they now cost a fortune. It’s true that copper pans work a treat, but any large stainless steel pot will work fine.
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setting point
This is the magical moment when syrup becomes jam! Fruits seem to behave very differently, even from batch to batch or year to year, so don’t believe a recipe that tells you to boil for X minutes and then pot. You need to test. A thermometer will give you a good guide – you’re after around 104 degrees Centigrade – but they’re never totally accurate. So I prefer to watch how the syrup runs off a wooden spoon – first in a long watery stream, then in sticky globs that seem to want to hang on – and then perform the ‘saucer test.’

saucer test
Have some saucers chilling in the fridge or freezer. Pour on a teaspoon of syrup then let it sit undisturbed while it cools. This is your window into the future – a sneak preview of the consistency your jam will end up. Push your finger across the jam and watch for bunching up and wrinkling. If instead it still feels and looks like a syrup, turn on the heat again and boil for another few minutes before testing again.

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You have now made jam!

Let it sit for a few minutes so that the fruit settles. Fold in or skim off any unsightly scum and pour into hot, sterilised jars right up to the brim. Carefully screw on clean, new lids and turn the jars upside down for 10 minutes to sterilise the insides of the lids. Just remember to turn them over again before they set!

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You can find more guidance here, including instructions for sterilising jars in the oven.

Whether you’re an experienced or novice preserver, please let me know how it goes, ask me any questions and share your own tips by commenting on this blog below, writing on our Facebook page or sending a tweet to @Riverford with the hashtag #cooksquestion.  

 

Anna’s preserving blog – now is the time for chutney

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It’s remarkably satisfying to capture the season’s fruits and vegetables in jars. And it makes sense to use up what’s growing now while it’s plentiful and at its best. In winter I’d much rather cook with a jar of the tomato passata I made in summer than buy tasteless, pallid specimens grown in gas-guzzling hothouses. Who wants strawberries at Christmas? Not me. But some fruity jam on my morning toast – yes please.

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Now is the best time of year for making chutney, whether you’re using up the windfalls from the garden or trying out Riverford’s new green tomato chutney kit – a genius solution for the end of the crop that missed out on the summer sun. Squash also makes a delicious chutney, especially when combined with pears and dates, so I intend to snap up one of Riverford’s squash boxes before they go. Chutneys can be made with all manner of fruits and vegetables and usually also contain onions, cooking apples, dried fruit and spices. Follow a trusted recipe to get an idea for the quantities of sugar and vinegar in relation to fruit and veg, as these are essential for preserving the chutney.

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For the best flavour, use whole spices tied up in a muslin bag and submerged in the chutney as it cooks. You can yank it out when the mix tastes spicy enough. Peppercorns, cloves, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks, orange zest, fresh ginger and mace all work well. Chutneys benefit from long, slow cooking in a heavy-based pot. It’s ready when a wooden spoon dragged across the bottom momentarily reveals a streak of pan. Chutneys also taste better given time, so try to resist the urge to eat them immediately. After a few months the flavours will have magically combined and deepened.

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One of my earliest culinary memories is of raiding trees and hedges on my street for crab apples, rosehips, hawthorn berries, rowans, elderberries and blackberries and cooking them up together to see what I could make. I must have been about 7, and it must have been about this time of year. Recently I’ve been making lots more hedgerow jelly, which I now do in classes for those keen to master the craft. It’s deep purple, full of flavour and tastes fantastic with roast lamb, venison or duck, or cheese.

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It’s easy too: Roughly chop 1kg of Riverford’s cooking apples (skin, cores and all), place in a big pot with 1kg of berries and barely cover with water. Cover and boil for an hour until the fruits burst, then strain through a jelly bag. Heat the resulting juice in a large pan, add 1lb granulated sugar for every pint of juice, stir gently to dissolve and then boil to setting point.

See my preserving guidelines for reaching setting point and filling sterilised jars. And don’t pick any berries you can’t identify!

Whether you’re an experienced or novice preserver, please let me know how it goes, ask me any questions and share your own tips by commenting on this blog below, writing on our Facebook page or sending a tweet to @Riverford with the hashtag #cooksquestion.

Riverford pickles + preserve blog from Anna Colquhoun

My name is Anna and I am a preserver.  Yes, it is an addiction, a bug which I hope you catch too.  If you do, you’ll understand why my shelves are five-deep with jars of translucent orange, yellow and purple jellies, assorted jams and pickles, maturing chutneys, berry vinegars, cordials, bottled stone fruits and slabs of quince ‘cheese’.  Through this blog and our new preserving kits we hope to inspire you to get preserving too.

Our first kit is the famous Watson cucumber pickle – something of a family heirloom.  Get it here, complete with everything you need including step-by-step instructions.  If you’re from America you might know it as ‘bread and butter pickles’.  Whatever you call it, it’s important to salt the veg first to draw out excess water which would otherwise dilute the vinegar.  Look out for the green tomato chutney kit next month, and check out my preserving guidance notes for the do’s and don’ts of sterilising and sealing jars and more.

A bit about me – I trained as a chef in San Francisco and now teach cooking classesand run a supper club in London, under the name Culinary Anthropologist.  I love making things from scratch – be it bread, pasta, ham or jam – and investigating the origins of ingredients and dishes and their journeys across the globe.  I’ve been a Riverford customer for years and I’m also part of the network of Riverford Cooks.  You’ll find us dotted across the country, running cooking classes, demonstrations, supper clubs and more.

Over the coming months I’ll be sharing some of my preserving tips and recipes and answering your queries.  If you’ve ever pondered turning your hand to preserving, now is the time.  Plums can be relied upon to make a delicious jam which sets easily.  Almost anything can be thrown into a slow-cooked chutney as long as there is enough vinegar and sugar to preserve it.  And now is the perfect time for piccalilli, one of my favourites.

Whether you’re an experienced or novice preserver, please let me know how it goes, ask me any questions and share your own tips by commenting on this blog below, writing on our Facebook page or sending a tweet to @Riverford with the hashtag #cooksquestion.  I do hope you catch my bug….