HAVE you ever made damson jam? I’m expecting a low percentage of people to answer yes to that question.
In the ‘no’ category, half will say it’s because they wouldn’t know where to locate a damson tree; 40 per cent might say they have no interest in making jam, while the other ten per cent have tried it and found that getting the stones out of damsons is a nightmare. As an expert (I’ve made three batches), I can assure you that all you need to do is squash the cooked damsons through a sieve. It’s that easy. Don’t, whatever you do, spend an hour trying to fish the stones out with a slotted spoon. This will lead to negative thoughts, a furrowed brow and a vow to buy jam.
My last batch was ruined on a new hob, which burnt the bottom of the pot black. This year’s late frosts have meant there isn’t a single damson on my tree. With these challenges, who would make jam? The answer is anyone who has tasted the end result and experienced the virtuous glow that comes with old-fashioned preserving.
To be honest, the only context in which I like jam is on a scone. But it’s making the jam that’s fun, as is giving away the jars to friends and family. Making chutney is another matter. I’ve tried it once, chucking in old courgettes, raisins and a chip shop’s annual allowance of vinegar. The results tasted like my house smelled for the next week – of acetic acid. Despite the disasters, I’m convinced that this preserving lark is a green weapon in the fight against food waste. Overrun by runner beans? Turn them into relish. Oranges gone untouched in the fruit bowl? Transform them into marmalade. And I haven’t even mentioned pickles and jellies.
Whether you have grown your own fruit, picked it at a farm, found it in the hedgerows or bought Scottish-grown stuff at the supermarket, preserves are one way of eating local and keeping your vitamin C levels up through the dark months of winter.
Feeling overwhelmed at the thought of jam-making? One alternative is to invest in a dehydrator (you can get one at Lakeland for about £50). This will slices of apples, tomatoes, herbs or whatever else you have a glut of at the touch of a button.
Back to preserving. Your ideal sugar will be organic, unrefined and fairly traded – Billingtons is probably the most widely available brand. But as any jam-making book will tell you, some delicate fruits and berries can be a bit overwhelmed by unrefined sugars, so you may have to decide between taste and ethics. British-made vinegars are widely available to help your chutney-making and pickling endeavours. I’ve heard that Waulkmill cider vinegar, from Langholm, works a treat in a chutney, or check out Aspall’s organic cider vinegar. Demijohn (www.demijohn.co.uk) has a range of Scottish fruit vinegars.
Once people discover you’re into preserving, they should be tripping over themselves to provide you with recycled jars – in the hope of getting a full pot in return. Don’t forget to sterilise them and they will be good to use again and again.
But what about all that boiling? Surely that uses up a lot of energy? Don’t panic. Compare it to the energy involved in running a factory that makes jam –and cooking up giant batches, producing the jars, lids and labels and transporting the raw ingredients and the finished product around the country. No matter how energy-efficient the process is, it can’t compete with your eight minutes of boiling on the hob at home. Nor can it compare to the taste of that dod of homemade jam slathered on a fruit scone.