Don’t you just love a good dollop of jam? On toast or crumpets, lining Wonderland-style tarts, or stirred into hot rice pudding, a spoonful of the sweet stuff is a simple way to add zingy, fruity flavour to good food.
If you’ve ever thought about whipping up your own preserves, Riverside Lifestyle jam-maker extraordinaire, lets us in on everything from how to choose the best British produce to her top tips for balancing the flavour. Let the cooking commence!
Riverside: First things first; where do you get your fruit from?
Whenever possible we try and source our produce locally; our strawberries and rhubarb are grown eight miles from my kitchen, raspberries and gooseberries are from Andover and we’re lucky enough to have a great wholesaler close by who also sources locally. Obviously we can’t always do this; I’ve yet to find Hampshire mangoes, but who knows, maybe one day!
RL: Why do you recommend buying locally?
These days, people are keen to know where their food comes from. Keeping things local means we know our sources, and we can support local growers and establish good relationships with them. We’re also very keen on keeping things seasonal, so we do run out of varieties, but that can be a nice thing too, as it means there’s always a new flavour to look forward to.
RL: What do you look for when picking your produce to make sure you’re getting the best?
Most fruit is best picked when it’s still slightly under-ripe, as then it has the maximum pectin content; pectin is a natural setting agent in fruit that’s essential for jam-making. It’s also worth remembering that the fruit doesn’t have to be the perfect shape or size, as its definition is lost in the cooking process.
Strawberries: We only use local strawberries, and only when they’re in season. These are freshly picked daily between May and October. Strawberries were a couple of weeks late this year, which means they’ve tended to be a little sweeter than previous years.
Raspberries: British raspberries are available from July to October. The ones picked later in the season tend to be sweeter.
Blackberries:We tend to forage these from hedgerows in the summer.
Apples & Stoned Fruits: Bramley apples are our preferred variety, because they add tartness to our chutneys. The apple harvest is predicted to be good this year, as is the stoned fruit like plums, damsons etc. They blossomed late, which meant there was less risk of them being damaged by frosts, and it also gave the trees longer to store up energy before blooming, so they could put more into their fruits.
RL: Step by step, could you talk us through how you make a batch of jam?
Let’s take our Lemon & Lavender Marmalade. We start by making lavender sugar using Riverside’s own lavender. We sieve it and check for any thorns etc., then mix it with the sugar, allowing the lavender flavour to infuse. We then thinly slice the lemons and soak them in water overnight. The next day, the lemons are cooked until soft, the lavender sugar is added, and the mixture is then cooked for approximately 30 minutes, until the setting point is reached. We bottle the marmalade up into warm, sterile jars, seal them, and allow them to cool before adding the Riverside label.
RL: What’s your number one tip for making sure you get the best possible flavour?
Use the best fruit you can, and a little less sugar than the recipe suggests!
RL: What’s the best thing about hand-making your own preserves?
Hearing someone say “wow” when they taste them!
RL: Which of our jams is your favourite, and how do you like to eat it?
Raspberry & Lavender; it tastes of raspberries of course, but the unusual twist of lavender just has to be tried. I find it’s best eaten with a spoon, on scones with clotted cream, in a Victoria sandwich or on a toasted teacake.