When I was growing up my mum was a bit stingy with the sweet snacks. We rarely had chocolate (or indeed any other) biscuits in the house. Any yoghurt that she bought was eaten that day. Lollies were things you got in bags at the end of parties. And as for cakes she didn’t normally make them. What we did always have was jam, lovely pots of jam which we spread all over buttered bread when we got home from school. This appreciation for jam has carried on into adulthood and these are the jams I appreciate most.
Plums – I have written this first, not necessarily because its my favourite although it is pretty close, but because I made some last week.
As anyone with a plum tree will know – they can be very productive trees and once you’ve eaten your full and stewed some there are always a great many left over to make jam with. Plum Jam with brandy makes for a lovely adult vice. Plum Jam (without the brandy) is my daughters jam of choice for spreading on pancakes.
Apricot – This is the jam I most associate with my mum. Every year she buys a case of apricots and makes jam. She makes her jam fairly runny so it tastes fresh and bursting with fruit. Apricots are low in pectin (the stuff that makes jam set) so can be quite difficult to make jam with them successfully. Personally I always seem to fail when making Apricot Jam, either it is just too runny and is, in essence, a sauce, or I cook it way too long and the sugar turns to toffee giving it a slightly unpleasant bitter aftertaste. Fortunately mum can usually be prevailed upon for a few jars.
Berries – Yes I know its a cop out lumping them all together but I really couldn’t separate the berries. Who can choose between gorgeous blackberry, sublime raspberry and every kids favourite – the oh so sweet strawberry? As kids we went out blackberry picking each year at one of the many bushes that line the roads of rural Australia. Now though I don’t know how people make blackberry jam – there are less of these bushes and picking from the road reserve can be ill advised as the plants are often sprayed with weed killer as they are a huge nuisance despite their delicious berries. But raspberries and strawberries are easy to find, and the best, and most fun, place to find them (if you can’t grow them yourself) is at a pick your own berry place. 2 year olds do need close supervision in such places in my experience……
Blackcurrants – I normally make jelly rather than jam with blackcurrants. In Australia the distinction is that a jam is basically the whole fruit stewed down with sugar and then bottled. A jelly has the pulp strained out so it sets as a: (hopefully) perfectly smooth clear jelly, coloured and flavoured by the fruit but not given texture by it. Blackcurrants make lovely jelly, a more adult flavour than some of the others as they don’t have the natural sweetness of say a strawberry or apricot but delicious nonetheless.
Chilli – And finally, what Top 5 could be complete without a mention of chillies? In all seriousness though I love chilli jam. I love the sticky South East Asian ones that Garden Glut has been making, filled with ginger, garlic and palm sugar. But I also really enjoy a chilli jelly which I make by adding chillies to a simple apple jelly recipe. The result is a clear, slightly red, chilli flavoured jelly that is absolutely fabulous with biscuits and cheese. Yum, Yum, Yum!
So what fabulous fruits have I overlooked? There are so many lovely jams, and that’s without even considering marmalades. I reckon I could come up with five fruits just for marmalade but for the record my favourite is cumquat.