I think we’ve established by now that my only claim to any goddess-like levels of domesticity is my habit of making gin, jam, and chutney. Last year (2021) focus was on the gins, with a bit of hedgerow jelly for completeness. In 2020, I made a ridiculous 6 gins but just one jelly. The year before (2019) I just did a couple of gins and three jams.
This year I’ve gone for balance, with four gins and two jellies. The garden did not do well with the summer heat this year, so no chutney at all.
So the gin formula is dead easy.
For 1 quantity of fruit you need half that weight in sugar and twice the volume in gin.
There, that’s it. Easiest recipe ever!
Here are this year’s gins as they start infusing.
- Plain and simple, sweet and almost like alcoholic ribena (yes I know that’s blackcurrent).
- I make this every year now, I just love it: over ice or with prosecco to make a poor man’s Kir Royale.
- A new one for me. I’ve done haw and lemon in the past which unfortunately looks like urine. Even with just the haws on their own, all the red has leached out of the hips in the first 24 hours.
- Classic right. Not bullaces this year, sadly I’ve seen barely any to forage. So half a punnet of supermarket plums was my only option. I started with them whole but then quartered them to make sure it all mixed together well.
The exact recipe for hedgerow jelly changes every year, depending on what I have available. In desperate times I’ve been known to chuck in supermarket blueberries to have enough fruit. The sloes have been appalling this year (again), so I haven’t put any of them in, which was once unusual but seems standard in recent years.
(Balls, the day after all the jam making I went for a run on different route than usual and spotted a massive sloe bush heavily laiden with fruit. Duly picked and frozen while I figure out what to do with them.)
The core fruits, for me at least, are blackberries and elderberries. This year, small boy was on foraging duty with me – we managed to collect a good harvest of blackberries and I gathered a similar quantity of elderberries over one lunch time and a quick morning top up after spotting a hedge of them while running. Elderberries are a pain because you have to de-stem them due to the tiny amount of cyanide in the stems, this is messy because I use my fingers. I know some people recommend a fork but I find that method brings stalks for the not-quite-ripe ones and doesn’t keep out the dry shrivelled ones, so fingers are best.
Aside: you know how when you do something repetitive (candy crush, labelling veg in a pack house, editing raw HTML, binge watching TV), when you close your eyes at night, that’s where you thoughts return? Well on jam-day, I went to sleep with elderberry de-stemming floating round my head.
- 500g blackberries
- 100g haws
- 250g blueberries
- 250g raspberries
- 200g plums
- 250g elderberries
- 290g apples (windfall from a house round the corner and the community mini-orchard)
That’s a total of 1870g fruit, so you need about 50% of that quantity in volume water.
Add the fruit and water to a pan and heat up, get it bubbling but not boiling until all the fruit is soft. If you’ve got big bits of apple and and plum, give them a good squish with a potato masher.
Then strain the fruit and liquid through a muslin or jam bag – my heathen family doesn’t like bits so we always make jelly rather than jam and we want it to be clear. Measure how much liquid you’ve got. I had 1500ml. The maths comes in again here, you need about 90% weight sugar by volume of liquid. In this case, that came out at the same amount of sugar I had left (I’d made the apple and elderberry first, see below).
So, put the liquid in a big pan, much bigger than you think because it’s going to get bubbly and foamy. Add the sugar and dissolve slowly, then bring to the boil and raise to jam point – that’s about 105C or 220F. Once it’s a jam point keep it there for 5 minutes, then bring back down to a simmer while you take a tea spoon of liquid and put it on a saucer in the fridge for 5 mins (I use Gu glass ramekins for this). If it’s set you’re all good to take the jam off the heat.
Cool it for a bit and meanwhile sterilise your jars; I do a soak in sterilising fluid and then 30mins in the oven at gas 3 to dry out too. Get the jam into the jars while it’s still quite hot and cover each one with clingfilm – then as the jam cools it shrinks in volume slightly, drawing the clingfilm down and forming a nice concave vacuum seal.
Apple and elderberry
Same idea here as the hedgerow jelly.
- 375g apples
- 250g elderberries
Boiling and straining gave me 500ml juices, so 450g sugar and boom, 2lb jam before 4pm.
Altogether, I had pretty much 4kg of jelly – perfect for Christmas presents – no boiled over jam so no need to scrub the gas stove, minimal stains on the kitchen chairs, terribly messed up fingernails, and a large pile of washing up.
How about you?
Do you make jams, jellies, gins, or other preserves? What are you favourites?