The Art of Making Jams: How to Preserve the Season's Best Flavours
Plavaneeta Borah , NDTV | Updated: July 14, 2017 14:08 IST
Talk about fruits of labour and that’s exactly what defines a jar of home-made preserves. There’s nothing like it. Pick any seasonal fruit of your choice or your favourite combination of ingredients, and you can create magic right there in your kitchen. And the best part – there are no set rules when it comes to experimenting with flavours. Go beyond the classics such as strawberry jams and orange marmalades, and think something completely new. You will actually have a ball in the kitchen.
The art of jam making is not as difficult a task as often perceived by many because of the fact that it is time consuming. All it requires is a little patience. And it is definitely worth the wait because once you spoon into a jar of freshly made preserve – robust with seasonal flavours and tempting with vibrant colours – it will instantly take you on a gastronomic joyride. Slather a generous dollop on a fresh slice of baguette or a roti to make a sweet wrap, top it on sinful creamy desserts for that extra fruity punch or just relish spoonfuls of it to satisfy sudden craving, preserves are one of the best ways to enjoy nature’s bounty all throughout the year.
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Playing with Flavours
India is not new to the tradition of jam making. In fact, it has been a common practice in several families across the country, with carefully guarded recipes passed down through generations. But now, with easy access to regional as well as international ingredients, it makes it all the more easy for home chefs to explore different flavours. Also, with the ongoing craze for savoury jams and alcohol-based preserves, ‘jamming’ has become all the more interesting.
“There is so much one can do when it comes to making jams at home. You could add a little alcohol to the fruit to give it more depth, use spices like cinnamon and star anise or even herbs like basil and rosemary to build on the flavour profile,” says Amrita Kaur, popularly known as Lady Khakha, a Mumbai-based food blogger with her blog Life Ki Recipes.
“I like to make a strawberry preserve with basil, and a sun-dried tomato jam with garlic and fresh herbs. While making jams, I like to cook the ingredients on a slow flame, as I believe that it helps in developing more intense flavours,” adds Amrita. Her bacon jam, which shot her to fame, was a smashing hit among the city folks and still continues to be one of her top selling products. Some of her other popular treats include onion jam, kale and pumpkin seeds pesto, and Old Monk salted caramel sauce to name a few.
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Apeksha Jain of The Gourmet Jar, a popular Delhi-based store known for its range of alcohol-based preserves among others, says, “Jam making is actually a lot of fun and you can explore so many different flavours. Of course it involves a little trial and error, but once you get it right, there’s no looking back.” Some of her signature creations include Banana and Rum Jam, Orange and Whisky Marmalade, Mango and Jalapeño, Spicy Onion and Mulled Wine Jam.
“The right proportions play an important role while making jams. The traditional recipe calls for equal quantities of sugar and fruit i.e 1:1. I like to make smaller batches of jams. I use high flame so that the ingredients rapidly come to a boil without losing on the flavour. I add the alcohol towards the end of the process and it works beautifully to elevate the final flavour of the jam,” she adds.
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Jamming at Home
While there are myriad flavours that you could experiment with, the process of making jams is standard. You need to get your proportions right and ensure that there is no moisture left in the final stage. The ratios could vary based on the kind of ingredients you use, but the method follows more or less the same pattern.
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Dipti Neville Lewis of Deelicious Preserves, a Mumbai-based venture, says, “For a berry-based jam, I start with cooking the berries in a heavy bottomed pan on a medium flame till the juices are secreted and the fruits acquire a pulpy consistency. I then add some acid (lime juice) followed by sugar, and cook it for a good amount of time, stirring constantly until the ingredients combine well to give you the desired texture. It takes time, so you need to be patient.”
Some of her popular preserves include caramel and apple, kiwi and pineapple, plum and vanilla, and peach and rosemary. Her carrot cake jam is much-loved, which is an interesting preserve that tastes exactly like the cake. She got hooked to jam making after trying Rachel Allen’s recipe of Basic Strawberry Jam, and realising that the process was actually quite simple and the jam turned out perfect.
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While making jam, the cooking process is actually the easiest. What needs more attention is the prep before and after. Moisture acts as the evil here and therefore you need be careful that there is none to spoil your effort.
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“Pick fresh fruits which are medium-ripe. If they are too ripe then they could hamper the texture of the jam,” says Apeksha.
The cleaning process is crucial. “Wash the fruits well to remove grit and then dry them completely so that not a single drop of water is left behind. Use kitchen towels to clean,” says Amrita.
When it comes to slicing the fruits, some like to keep them a little chunky while some chop them finely. The choice is really yours. Once the jam is ready, it is important to store them well. Sterilise the glass jars by boiling them in hot water for a few minutes. Then, clean them well with a dry cloth so that there is no drop of water left behind. Once you fill in the jam, make sure that the lid is sealed tightly.
Since home-made jams do not contain any artificial preservatives, sugar and lemon are the only ingredients that work together to increase the shelf life. This is also the reason why you need to store them well and keep them in the refrigerator. Some jams last for three to four months while some last for almost a year.
“You could label your batch of jam jars with the exact date. That way you could keep a track,” advices Amrita.
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Besides building up on patience, what you may also need is a jam thermometer. This will help you know the exact temperature and when to turn off the heat so that the jam has the perfect texture. Another way is the cold plate method, where you place a drop of the jam on a chilled plate to check whether it hardens immediately or is still runny. Accordingly, you can make your call.
Here are few simple recipes to get you started –
Recipe by Amrita Kaur
Makes 250 grams
1 kg onions, sliced lengthwise
1 Tbsp oil
1/2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp brown sugar (more if you prefer sweeter jam)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp chilli flakes
Few sprigs of fresh rosemary
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1. Heat oil and butter in a heavy bottomed pan. Add chilli flakes and herbs and cook for 2 minutes until fragrant.
2. Throw in the onions, and cook on a low flame for 15 minutes. Once they soften and become translucent, increase the flame to medium, cook for another 10-12 minutes or until they start to turn golden brown.
3. Add brown sugar, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar and cook for another 10-15 minutes on a low flame, stirring frequently. Cook until all the water has evaporated and the onions are sticky and dark brown in colour. Remove from the flame.
4. Once cooled, discard the rosemary sprigs. Transfer to a clean and sterilised glass jar.
Tip:This onion jam should be stored in the refrigerated and consumed within a month. It can be used in wraps, sandwiches, pizzas or add a spoonful of the jam to mayo to make a delicious caramelised onion dip.
Orange Whisky Marmalade
Recipe by Apeksha Jain
Makes 2 kg
1.5 kg oranges
1.2 kg sugar
150 ml whisky
1. Wash and halve the oranges. Juice them using a juicer and keep the juice aside.
2. Slice each shell into two and then cut them into thin strips, carefully removing any seeds that you can find.
3. Place the oranges in a heavy bottomed pot and strain the reserved juice into it. Add 6 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cover and cook on low heat for about 30 minutes or until the orange peel starts turning translucent. Press the peel between your fingers. It should be soft.
4. At this stage, add sugar and lemon juice. Place the saucer in the freezer to chill - you will need this to test the setting point of the marmalade.
5. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.
6. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then cook on low heat, stirring every 4-5 minutes.
7. Start testing the setting point of the marmalade after 5 minutes, when the mixture starts becoming translucent and jelly-like. To test the setting point, remove the saucer from the freezer and place a drop of the mixture onto the cold plate. Return to the freezer for 3 minutes and then push the mixture with your fingers. If the surface wrinkles then it has reached the setting point and is ready.
8. If it slides like liquid, then it should be boiled for 2-3 minutes before testing again.
9. When the setting point has been reached, turn off the heat, add the whisky, stir well and pour into jars.
10. Let it cool to room temperature before sealing the cap on.
Tip: Store in a cool place. This keeps well for 3-4 months in the refrigerator.
Recipe by Roopa Gulati
Makes 500 grams
750 gm grapefruit
100 gm lemons
1 1/2 litre water
1 1/2 kg sugar
1/2 tsp butter
1. Squeeze the juice of the grapefruit and lemons.
2. Cook the juice along with water over a moderate flame. Remove membrane, pips and pith from the fruit and tie securely inside a muslin bag.
3. Shred the peel into strips and add to the juice along with the muslin bag.
4. Cook the juice until the liquid has evaporated by 1/3rd of its original quantity. Add sugar and continue cooking.
5. Boil rapidly until setting point is reached.
6. Drop in butter and skim out any impurities from the surface. Turn off the heat and let it cool completely.
Tip: Store in a cool and dry jar.
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