Life

I made preserves for the first time, and this is what I learned

Ella Walker has never before made any kind of jam or pickle, and so she took the advice of Pam Corbin – queen of preserves

Pam Corbin, author of Pam The Jam: The Book of Preserves

MY GRANNY'S crab apple jelly was the single-most delicious thing. After she died, we hoarded jars of the stuff, not wanting to run out, spreading it thinner and thinner on toast until even the bits caught in the shoulders of the glass had vanished upon tongues.

Shop-bought stuff is never quite the same. My boyfriend's mum's marmalade is far superior to any other marmalade I've ever encountered at a breakfast buffet, and my boyfriend's chilli jam (chillies grown on our windowsill – yes, we're smug) is so good, I've taken to hiding jars in our top cupboard, so when people ask for another instalment I can say we've run out, and keep the rest to myself.

However, pickles (oh so chic in culinary circles these days) and preserves have not historically been part of my own kitchen repertoire – until now. Pam Corbin – famed for her River Cottage connections and panache with preserves – has just shared her latest recipe collection of things to be jarred, stored and scoffed: Pam The Jam.

And so, I thought, with a compendium to pick from, surely there'll be a pickle or jam out there I can get a handle on?

Ignoring Pam's suggestion to use a water bath to sterilise my jars (a motley collection, formerly bearers of French apricot jam, Carluccio's porcini pasta sauce, and a supermarket own brand cranberry jelly), I went old-school and gave them a good soap in hot water, followed by 15 minutes in a low oven (120C fan). They couldn't have looked any shinier or bacteria-free had they been in an industrial steriliser.

First up, I went savoury (and, it has to be said, for the most simple of my two challenges): Sushi ginger.

Having just returned from a trip to Japan, where every conceivable meal appears to come with a small dish for soy sauce, a powerful smidgen of wasabi, and a bowl of zingy, fragrant, pearlescent pickled ginger, this seemed like a pickle that would get considerable usage in my now Japanese-cuisine-obsessed household.

Unable to track down the pink-tipped, very young ginger found in Asian supermarkets (sorry Pam), I plumped for your standard bronze fare found everywhere (Pam says it's spicier but just as good, as long as it's not gone dry and stringy).

And so commenced 30 minutes of hand cramps peeling said ginger with a teaspoon – fiddly, not therapeutic – but I did eventually get into a groove with it, taking breaks between knobbly root joints to slice the most recently skinned one into wafer thin slices (not to self: Buy a mandolin). The easiest bit by far came next, mixing my golden wafers with salt and leaving them to get on with things for a couple of hours under a sheet of baking paper and a plate, to draw out excess moisture.

Suitably rested, following a rinse in cold water and a gentle pat down with a tea towel (forgot to buy kitchen paper, but it did the job), my ginger went for a simmer in a tart, nose-tickling mixture of water, sugar and rice wine vinegar, before being jarred up. I felt very professional tipping the jars upside down for a minute or so, to settle and seal. I think Pam would be proud.

Sushi ginger verdict: Absolute doddle to put together, and I'll be chucking pickled ginger on absolutely everything from now on.

Second, it was my attempt at sweet. On writing, my homegrown raspberries were not sufficiently bounteous to attempt raspberry jam (give me a couple more months), so lemon and honey curd it had to be. There's just something so luxurious about lemon curd. And I'm a lemon drizzle fiend – my citrus cake skills will know no bounds if I can manage to whip up curd too.

I felt like quite the lemon murderer by the end though, getting through seven of the sunshine babies before the requisite 250ml juice was squished out of them (OK, I slightly failed and only managed 245ml – but I ran out of lemons!).

Folding the juice and zest into a bath of sugar and butter, drizzled with honey and melted over a bain-marie, everything was quite wholesome and going to plan...

Until it took significantly longer than the nine to 10 minutes specified for the mixture to thicken and get up to 78 degrees, but it might have been my set-up – my heatproof bowl was not all that snug with the pan.

So I went rogue, popped a lid on, whacked up the heat and ignored the buzzer until it reached the desired glassiness and temperature (forgive me, Pam, it was way over 20 minutes in the end). I can barely get the yellow gloop poured into jars before I'm at it with a spoon. It's that good.

Lemon and honey curd verdict: The kitchen smelt quite wonderful, and aside from a thermometer being pretty necessary, similarly straightforward to achieve. Now very tempted to attempt a lemon meringue pie...

:: Pam The Jam: The Book Of Preserves by Pam Corbin, photography by Mark Diacono, is published by Bloomsbury, priced £20. Opposite are three recipes from the book for you to try.

SUSHI GINGER

(Makes 2 x 200ml jars)

300g fresh root ginger, peeled unless it's young (250g prepared weight)

1tbsp fine sea salt

200ml rice vinegar or white wine vinegar

100ml water

50g granulated sugar

Method:

Sterilise your jars and twist-on lids. Using a sharp knife, mandolin or the fine slicing blade on a food processor, cut the ginger crossways into wafer-thin slices.

In a mixing bowl, toss together the ginger slices and the sea salt. Cover with a piece of baking parchment and a plate and set aside in a cool place for about two hours to draw out the excess moisture from the ginger. Tip into a sieve and rinse under cold water, then drain and dry thoroughly with kitchen paper.

Meanwhile, in a medium pan combine the vinegar, measured water and sugar and bring to a simmer, stirring to help the sugar dissolve. Add the ginger, return to simmering point then remove from the heat.

Spoon the ginger slices into your jars and pour the hot vinegar over to completely cover the ginger and fill the jars to the brim. Seal immediately. Invert the jars for a minute or so before turning the right way up to cool.

The pickle is ready to eat straight away. Otherwise, store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Keep in the fridge once opened for up to 10 weeks.

LEMON AND HONEY CURD

(Makes 4 x 200ml jars)

Finely grated zest of 2 unwaxed lemons

250ml lemon juice (5-7 lemons)

125g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

200g granulated sugar

100g honey

4 large eggs, well beaten

Method:

Sterilise your jars and twist-on lids. Have ready a pan of simmering water that your heatproof bowl will fit snugly over without touching the water.

Put the lemon zest, juice, butter, sugar and honey into the bowl and place over the pan of simmering water. Lightly stir the mixture from time to time until the butter has barely melted – the temperature on a cooking thermometer should be about 50C.

Carefully pour the eggs into the lemon-butter mixture and whisk briskly with a balloon whisk for a minute or so until well combined. Continue to cook the mixture for nine to 10 minutes, scraping down the sides every so often with a spatula and giving the mixture a quick whisk every minute or so until it is thick, the surface is glass-like and the temperature has reached 78C. Remove from the heat.

Tip the curd into a wide-necked jug with a good pouring lip, making sure you scrape around the sides of the bowl, then fill the warm jars to the brim; seal at once.

Store in a cool place for up to four weeks. Once opened keep in the fridge and eat within three to four weeks.

BEST EVER RASPBERRY JAM

(Makes 6 x 200ml jars)

1kg raspberries

650g jam sugar (i.e. with added pectin)

A drop or two of olive oil (if needed)

Method:

Sterilise your jars and twist-on lids. Put the raspberries in a large heavy-based pan or preserving pan. Lightly sprinkle in the sugar, a third at a time, gently shaking the pan so the sugar is well distributed. Cover and leave for an hour or so for the juices to draw out.

Lightly stir the mixture with a wooden spoon to break up any clumps of sugar. Place over a medium heat and bring to a steady boil, then boil for five to six minutes for a soft set jam, or seven to eight minutes for a firmer set.

Remove from the heat and stir lightly (in one direction only) to remove any foam, adding a drop or two of oil if it doesn't dispel easily. Tip into a wide-necked jug with a good pouring lip, then fill the warm sterilised jars to the brim. Seal at once.

Invert each jar for a minute or so, to ensure the lid is sterilised, then turn the right way up and leave to cool. Store in a cool, dark, dry place. Best eaten within nine months. Keep in the fridge once opened and eat within four to six weeks.

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