Jam, sugar, and all sorts of useful information!!
It is summer and the fresh, sweet smelling fruit are starting to make their way on to the farmer’s market benches and in the Super Markets.
Strawberries, cherries, medlars, peaches and apricots… It’s really worth taking the time to just take a stroll through the farmer’s market and breathe in all the intoxicating aromas from the fruits…
Buy some and enjoy them now while they are in season. Now, that they are so sweet smelling, beautiful and bursting with flavor.
If you find some on sale you should make enough jam for the whole year, so you can enjoy these tastes even on those cold winter days… Toast some bread and spread some butter and some peach jam on it that will remind you of these warm summer days…
As I’m writing this, I have a plate next to me, full of these wonderful peaches I bought this morning from a very small local deli owned by Mr. Militiadi. The whole office is filled with their aroma and I’m salivating! I want to eat one so badly, but I don’t have a knife with me and the rest of the team is filming downstairs and I don’t want to interrupt them! I think I’m just going to bite into one!!
I wanted to tell you a little bit about making jams. About the various sweeteners you can use and some other information you may find useful…
Some historical events...
From ancient times, people have always tried to find ways to store their foods to use at a later date. It was much more difficult back then because they didn’t have refrigerators and freezers like we do now.
For the past 60.000 years, they used heat, salt and vinegar as storing methods. It’s only been in the last 300-200 years that there has been a more systematic effort to find more precise methods for storing food.
Napoleon played a huge part in this. He was the first person to ask the scientists and cooks of those days, to find ways to store fruit, because he wanted to be able to provide them for his soldiers during war.
Chef Nicholas Aper started experimenting and was able to find a way to preserve foods which he cooked over various temperatures and stored them in hermetically sealed containers.
Jam was about the same as we know it today. It was first created by the queen of England’s doctor, in 1561. It got its name from the Portuguese word “marmelo”, which means quince, since quince jam (marmalade) was actually one of the first ever made.
It is also worth noting that in those days sugar was very expensive since it was brought in from the East and was considered a spice. It was only the rich people who were able to acquire it. So, in those days, jams were made with honey. They simply mixed the honey and fruit juice together and let it sit in the sun until it thickened.
In a few words, jam developed further with wars and the exploratory trips around the world…so it may not have such a good background or beginning. On the other hand, countless generations have been raised by eating fruit all year round in the form of jam and so many sailors were able to fight off scurvy by eating jam and canned fruit.
Back to modern days…
A bit about sugar…
Jam consists mostly of fruit and sugar, a 1:1 percentage.
Sugar plays two very important roles in any type of jam.
The first is that it gives a sweet taste.
The second is much more important. Sugar is basically a preservative for our jam. ??? Microorganisms find it difficult to survive in environments with such a high sugar content.
This is a very important fact to know about storing jam.
Of course, the quantity of sugar can vary according to our preferences. Just keep in mind that less sugar means less thickening and more sugar means that it may caramelize and finally crystallize.
A bit about pectin…
Another very important factor we should keep in mind when making jam is pectin.
Pectin is a polysaccharide, like carbohydrates and is made up of long chains of monosaccharide units.
It is found mainly in the skin and seeds of fruit and is basically the “cement” of the fruit’s cells. For jam, the pectin and the “web” it creates is what keeps the mixture of juice and sugar in solid form. So, in order to make jam, we need pectin.
It’s not so simple though, because some fruit contain a large amount of pectin and others have less.
Fruit that contain a large amount of pectin in them are citrus fruits, like apples, gooseberries, medlars, quince and grapes.
Fruits that contain a lesser amount of pectin are apricots, cherries, strawberries, pineapple and pears.
You can also find pectin in super markets, in powdered form. You can also use this to help thicken your jam.
There is also a sugar used for making jam which contains pectin.
My personal opinion is to create the right combinations of fruit when making jam, so that we don’t need to add any other ingredients.
For instance, it would be smart to make strawberry and medlar or gooseberry jam. This way you can balance the low content of pectin in the strawberries with the high content of pectin in medlars.
Another very important fact to keep in mind is… some lemon juice helps develop pectin.
And one last bit of information about pectin. The fruit which contain a higher amount of pectin are the ones that are not ripe. So, it’s better to use fruit that are just ripening for more pectin.
Now, for sweeteners….
We already covered sugar...
We can also substitute sugar with honey. But remember that honey is more expensive and has a much stronger flavor than sugar, so we should be careful not to use it when making jam with fruit with a very subtle flavor.
Also, honey is heavier than sugar and has more moisture. As a general rule, we can substitute each cup of sugar with ¾ cups honey when making jam. Honey can also take on a very dark color and make the jam darker in color also.
We can also use brown or dark brown sugar instead of granulated white sugar. As with the honey, the same rule will apply to these types of sugar sweeteners. The ones that have a more intense flavor than granulated sugar need to be used carefully. If the flavor is not stronger then the quantities added can remain the same.
It’s also better to boil the fruit in some water on their own or with some lemon juice over low heat for a few minutes. Let them soften, add the sugar and then boil over high heat… until the jam thickens.
The reason we use low heat at first is because it helps the pectin develop. It is also important not to stir the jam too much and to always use a wooden spoon that will only be used for making jam.
Spices or aromatics…
Once you have learned how to make simple jams, you can start to add some aromas like cinnamon, vanilla or various other spices. You have to be very careful with this at first, especially if the spices are going to remain in the jam because later on, they may release more aroma than you would like and ruin the jam. You can also add wine or various alcoholic drinks.
And of course do not forget that it is very necessary to sterilize the jars we are going to use for storing the jam. Place them upside down in a baking pan and heat them in the oven set to 160* C (320* F), for at least 10 minutes.
That’s about it! I hope you found what I had to say interesting!
Don’t forget that you can find lots of recipes for jams, preserves and marmalades on the site!
I’ll be waiting for pictures showing me all the variations of your own home made jam!!