Story telling from Australia
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.