When it comes to making preserves we take our cue from nature. Fruit for preserving is ready when branches are bowing and there is just too much to turn into a tart or pile into a breakfast bowl. The late summer glut is a preserve makers’ Christmas, the sun of the summer has ripened up a deep crimson rainbow of berries and stone fruits. Making the most of them is to capture their essence – from the bubblegum sweetness of ripe strawberries to the mellow custardy bite of a blushing apricot.
These preserve recipes use undyed sugars and honey and only the natural pectin from lemon juice, giving maximum respect to the fruit. I cook the fruit as low and for as little time as possible and use only a dusting of sugar as I think this really honours the hero – the fruit.
Making preserves is instinctive – I don’t use thermometers or laboursome sterlising methods, once you’ve had a go you’ll get a feel for consistency and cooking times. Here are two tips I find helpful:
- Place a saucer in the freezer before you start cooking to test the set of your jam. After 30 minutes, check the jam by spooning a little onto the saucer from your freezer. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it’s ready. If not, keep cooking for a few minutes at a time, then check again. Remember to put your saucer back in the freezer in the meantime.
- A note on sterilising jars. Rather than boiling jars to sterilise them, warm them in the oven while you are working. Heat the oven to 140°C/ fan 120°C/gas 1. The jars should be in there for 10 minutes minimum, but can stay in longer. When your jam is ready and still hot, protecting your hands with an oven glove, carefully ladle it into the hot jars. This process will be sufficient to seal the jars safely – and it eliminates boring boiling and washing. The hottest cycle on your dishwasher will do the trick too, just make sure you fill the jars while they are still hot.
ROSY-CHEEKED APRICOT JAM
This is the best jam I have ever made. It is summer in a jar. Break it out on a grey January day and make everyone smile and think of summer. It is more in the French style than our traditional set apricot jam, somewhere between a jam and a compote, with a softer set and less sugar, keeping the freshness of the fruit intact.
I use the actual apricot kernels in my jam, the little almond-shaped seeds that hide inside the apricot stones. Stirring them into the jam before jarring adds more apricot goodness and an almost almond flavour, which I love. Uncovering the kernels takes a bit of time but it’s well worth it. I steep the fruit and sugar for a couple of hours before cooking too, which helps the apricots keep their shape in the jam.
MAKES 4–5 JARS
- 1.5kg ripe blushing apricots, washed and halved (keep a handful of the stones)
- 500g unrefined golden caster sugar juice of 2 lemons
- 1 vanilla pod
- Place the apricot halves and sugar into your biggest pan and squeeze over the juice of the lemons. Score the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and add both pod and seeds to the pan. Give everything a good mix and leave to steep for 2 hours.
- If you want to add the apricot kernels, here is how to do it. Wrap the stones in a tea towel and give them a bash with a rolling pin to crack them. Then pick the little kernel out of each one. Discard the stones and put the kernels in a bowl. Cover them with boiling water and leave them to sit for a minute, then drain. Peel away the brown skins and add the kernels to the fruit.
- Once the apricots have had 2 hours steeping, and the sugar has dissolved and the fruit has softened, put the pan on a low heat and bring to a simmer. Keep simmering for 25 minutes, stirring all the time to stop the jam from catching. You can skim off any foam that rises to the top as you go.
- After 25 minutes the jam should have thickened, and it will thicken further as it cools. To check it will set, you can use the saucer test (above).
WHITE PEACH CORDIAL
Win friends with this delicate fruit drink. Make bellinis all year round.
- 1kg of white peaches, halved + destoned
- 250g sugar
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Seeds from 2 vanilla pods
- Place the stoned peaches into blender, skin and all and and blitz in batches until you have pureed the whole lot.
- Put the puree into a pan with the sugar, lemon juice and vanilla and bring to a simmer. Simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes until custardy and thick then pour into sterilized bottle or jars, screw on the tops and keep in a dry place until merriment.
- 350g raspberries
- 200g butter
- 400g of golden caster sugar
- Zest and juice of 2 lemons (should be 150ml of juice approx )
- 6 eggs and 2 egg yolks, beaten
- First put the raspberries in a food processor and blitz and then quickly sieve the mixture to get rid of any pips.
- Next put the raspberry puree, butter, sugar and lemon juice and zest into a heatproof bowl that will fit on top of your saucepan. Place the bowl over simmering water in the saucepan and stir with a whisk over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved.
- Now add the beaten eggs and yolks and whisk continuously over the low heat cooking for 10-15 minutes until the curd is thick and custard like. If your curd curdles don’t worry just pass it through a fine sieve at the end.
- Cool the curd and stir from time to time as it cools then spoon into sterilised jars, keep in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.