Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

Why quit sugar?

Members of the British Women’s Institute celebrated their centenary this week with a fabulous cake flash mob at Parliament House – and I bet those cakes had sugar in them.

The fabulously talented Silvana

The talented Silvana

I know all the arguments and I’m sure they’re perfectly valid but I’m not quitting sugar any time soon, not when prize-winning cooks from the Sydney City branch of the Australian Country Women’s Association offered to hold a master class in jam making at our house last Saturday.


And the equally talented Gabrielle

In preparation I bought six kilos of sugar at the corner shop and ignored disapproving looks from lycra-clad locals who sat sipping their low fat cappuccinos in Charlotte’s café.

Making jam without sugar seems so parsimonious, and giving it up unthinkable. What would you spread on your scones if you gave up jam? Should we ban toast and marmalade? Banish Victoria sponges?

mid way through cooking

mid way through cooking

Gabrielle supplied organic lemons from her tree as well as several kilos of berries and Silvana baked an apple and hazelnut cake, presumably in case our sugar levels dropped dangerously low at any point during the afternoon. They were both armed with gleaming copper-bottomed pans, special spoons, funnels, muslin and spotlessly clean aprons.

Thank God I cleaned inside the oven.

The recipe was simple enough – fruit, sugar and lemon juice – with tips from the professionals that made all the difference.

Save the pips when you squeeze the lemons, tie them into a scrap of muslin and drop into the pan of boiling fruit to help it set.

Cut out and discard any bruised sections of fruit.

Choose under ripe not overripe fruit to increase pectin levels.

Choose a pan with a wide base and only fill it a third

Don’t stir too often.


Jen and Margaret skim off the scum

Making jam isn’t difficult. You boil fruit with lemon juice, add sugar, boil hard and bottle when it’s done. Knowing when it’s done is the hard part.

While the jam bubbled and broiled we washed jars in hot soapy water then rinsed, dried and placed them in a warm oven; lids were dunked in boiling water; tea towels were spread over bench tops; funnels positioned next to chopping boards and plates slipped into the freezer.

That last one is to help tell you when the jam is set.


The all important finger test from Cheryl

Drop a teaspoon of hot jam mix onto a cold plate, wait a minute then push your finger through the mixture. If the line you’ve created quickly disappears it’s not ready; if it takes a while for the jam to reform it’s getting close; and if the surface wrinkles, it’s done.

The idea of the class was to train novices like me so we could make more jam for the Christmas markets. Last year they sold several thousand jars and I couldn’t help thinking of pudding production in Broken Hill. They’re in pre-production mode now and they’ll be ramping up just as I head off to the UK. Making jam to raise money for the CWA is my Sydney equivalent.


Maria holds her nerve while bottling

Yesterday, fittingly on the 100th anniversary of the Women’s Institute in England, I made a small batch of blood orange marmalade.

Silvana’s recipe was simplicity itself and the colour of the boiling fruit so vivid I was tempted to paint with it. After two hours of cautious chopping, mixing, boiling and bottling, 29 jars of glistening marmalade were ready, with 2 tester jars to submit for approval. If those jars pass, the rest will be labelled and sent for sale.

My batch of blood orange marmalade

My batch of blood orange marmalade

Clyde gets back from Broken Hill tomorrow, by which time I might have cleaned the splattered mess on the stove, floor, cupboard fronts, bench top, tea towels and chopping boards, either that or repaint the kitchen blood red; it’s a toss up which would be quicker.

‘Moderation in all things’ is a great motto until it comes to making jam, then all bets are off. I’m sticking with sugar.

And if anyone knows how to remove jam from an extractor fan please drop me a line, preferably before tomorrow.

18 comments on “Why quit sugar?

  1. Gaye Priestley
    September 18, 2015

    As I sit in my garden with coffe plus 1 sugar, I have a big smile on my face.
    That corner store would never have had a sale of so much sugar.
    The Arbour is a great place for some, especially the chooks, veggies etc.
    Hope the jam is coming off all the surfaces….


  2. debhuntwasinbrokenhill
    September 18, 2015

    You’re right Gaye, they sold out of sugar that day! Sorry we didn’t get to catch up with you while we were in Berry, next time, and remember you’re always welcome here 🙂


  3. bkpyett
    September 18, 2015

    Love your post, Deb. Life without sugar would be very dull. Your blood orange marmalade looks superb! Good luck with the extractor fan, that’s the hard part…


    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      September 18, 2015

      Thanks Barbara, I kept all the skimmings that the fastidious CWA cooks normally throw away and we have a single precious jar in the fridge. Toast and marmalade for breakfast 🙂


  4. monsoonwendy
    September 18, 2015

    What gorgeous culinary vision you have conjured Deb! Go for the blood red kitchen I say. But then I would, wouldn’t I?


  5. Karen
    September 18, 2015

    Looks Beautiful!!!! Would love the recipe…..


    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      September 18, 2015

      Here you go Karen, it’s SO easy.

      Quickie orange marmalade
      500g oranges
      1 lemon
      2 cups orange juice (freshly squeezed!)
      4 cups water
      1.5kg sugar

      Mince, coarsely blend or very finely chop the fruit (discard seeds)
      Pop into large saucepan and add orange juice and water
      Bring to the boil; cook until fruit is soft
      Add sugar, stir to dissolve and bring to the boil
      Boil hard for 25 mins
      Take off heat and stand for 10 mins
      Pour into hot sterilised jars
      Seal immediately


  6. Maggie Wilson
    September 18, 2015

    Our WI made strawberry jam this spring. It did not set, and now I think I know why – I stirred it constantly! Nor did we have the set test to verify. We presented it as strawberry “preserve” or “topping”. Always a creative work-around!


    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      September 19, 2015

      Apparently you can re-boil it the next day if it doesn’t set (although not sure it’s worth it when you can pour liquid jam onto your muesli!)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Eliza Waters
    September 18, 2015

    Mouth-watering delight – I can almost smell the delicious scent of fruit boiling on the stove! Though I try to be moderate, I can’t imagine giving up sugar either!


  8. cathmarriott
    September 19, 2015

    There are two issues with jam.
    – it is a delicious pot of bottled sunshine to enjoy over the grey skies of winter
    – you eat it with all those fattening things like bread, scones, cream and cake.
    What to do ….. Very tricky situation.
    My ambition is to stay off the sugar and the carbs follow because you can’t have one without the other – but then I think of all that sunshine going to waste. And,, well that would be a shame.
    so here’s to enjoying life’s gifts.


  9. rthepotter
    September 19, 2015

    Nice one. I’ve not made any at all this year and I do miss both the ritual and the shining rows of jars. I even miss the jam. Bit late now unless the crab apple tree comes good 😦


    • debhuntwasinbrokenhill
      September 19, 2015

      Are you anywhere near Market Harborough? The local WI just put out a call saying they have lots of fallen cooking apples 🙂


      • rthepotter
        September 21, 2015

        Afraid not, but my quinces are just fatting up if only the equinoctial gales don’t blast them to bits. Fingers crossed.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. candidkay
    October 18, 2015

    I have a friend whose husband is a nut about food. He regularly sucks the joy out of mealtime and any treats. I’m with you–everything in moderation . . . life should be enjoyed! And food is part of the gig:). Thank goodness!


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This entry was posted on September 17, 2015 by and tagged , , , , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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