Thank you all for my lovely birthday wishes last week – I had a great day, and the celebrations are set to continue this week! I will save up all the (many) photos I’ve taken and deliver them in one giant photo post. I mostly ate bread-based snacks, which might be evident by all the photos of sandwiches – I’ll ty to weed them out a bit. Easting bread-based meals is my base-state of being. Leave me to my own devices and I’ll eat pasta and sandwiches until I burst. I’m a bit like an unsupervised puppy in that way. In that way only, mind you. I have never scratched up anyone’s furniture or left little surprises on the carpet. To my knowledge.
Anyway, while I’m waiting and looking forward to my next two birthday extravaganzas (extravaganzae?), I thought I’d drop in a wee recipe. It seems like a while since I had a recipe to share. This one was borne of a kind of exciting opportunity – I suppose I’d better start at the beginning of this story, hadn’t I? To begin at the beginning, Sainsbury’s have invited me to join their Food Blogger Network. I give it all capitals because I think it makes me sound extra important. You can find details about the blogger network here and you can even see the lovely description they gave me here – look for This is Rock Salt. I was happy to accept their invitation, and almost immediately I was offered some of their new range of flavoured sugars to try. That’s when I was absolutely sure I was on to a good thing.
There were three kinds of sugar in the parcel I received within a couple of days – cinnamon, vanilla and lavender. Sainsbury’s invited everyone who tried them to come up with a recipe idea, so that got my brain cogs spinning, or at least turning. Rotating. Ticking over, if you will. The first sugar I had a go at was the lavender. I’ve used lavender in my baking before – most notably in macarons and in blueberry and lavender cupcakes – and I’ve also seen a gorgeous lavender shortbread recipe at the lovely Promenade Plantings, which I intend to try one day (with added white chocolate – I’m hooked on the idea of this combo). So, these ideas went through my mind, along with a few others – most notably white chocolate and lavender cupcakes, with little lavender shortbreads as decoration. I can just picture billowing lilac buttercream on a soft, fluffy sponge base… I digress. The sugar was there, just at the back of my mind, waiting for me to make a decision on how and when to use it. What was also there, at the back of my kitchen, was a huge punnet of plums that I’d bought from the reduced section of the supermarket, and never used. Some of them were past their best, even to the most charitable observer. It was getting to the crunch – except, it was getting to the opposite of the crunch, because fruit gets squishier… It was getting to the squish. That doesn’t have the same ring to it. However you want to say it, what I’m getting at is that they needed used up. In one of those lovely moments of ‘oh yeah!’, I landed on plum and lavender jam – a revelation, at least to me.
I’d never made jam without the ready-made jam sugar before, but pectin isn’t hard to lay hands on, and I thought it might be time to take the training wheels off, so to speak. We didn’t call them ‘training wheels’ though; when I was wee they were called ‘stabilisers’, at least in our house, which is probably why I have such an awesome and extended vocabulary and only make up one word in ten. I duly purchased some sachets of pectin and brought them home to make some jam.
If you read up on jam making, it can seem a bit intimidating. There are parts that I am still intimidated by – for example, I’ve never properly sterilised and sealed up any jars. You don’t *have* to do this, if you’re making a small batch and keeping it in the fridge. You only have to seal them up properly if you’re making a batch big enough to store in the cupboard and use through the winter. So, don’t worry about that. The other thing that can send a person into a bit of a tizz is thinking they don’t have the right equipment. Now, I won’t argue that a proper, wide preserving pan will give you reliable and predictable results, and make it easier to follow recipes written by other people will proper preserving pans. However, I’ve made a few jams and chutnies now, and they’ve all been done in my normal kitchen pots. The plum and lavender jam was made in a giant soup pot, because it was the biggest batch I’d made so far and I didn’t want to get spattered by hot jam.
I did find some jam in my hair later that night. Not a biggie.
What I’m trying to say is that you can make jam without buying specialist gear, and without special jam sugar, and without hooking jars out of a pot of boiling water like some kind of dangerous carnival game. You can also do all of these things, and get great results, and have a cupboard of homemade preserves. I aspire to that – but aspiring to one thing doesn’t mean you can’t go ahead and achieve something a few steps down the ladder, right?
Enough philosophy. Here is my recipe for plum and lavender jam:
- About 1kg plums
- 350g lavender sugar
- one 8g sachet pectin
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Straight away, you have to agree that the ingredients list is simple.
First, prepare the plums. This can take a while, depending how ripe they are. I added a few less-than-ripe plums into the mix, to bulk out the jam, and it still worked fine. Be aware that the more ripe the plums are, the more sweet they’ll be – the less ripe, the sharper. Take this into account because it will affect the final taste. Also, the riper they are the easier they are to remove the stone from. You will come to appreciate this, when stoning a kilogram of plums.
Tip all the fruit into a big pot, and cook over a medium-low heat for 15 minutes. The fruit will begin to look mushier and soft.
Add the sugar, pectin and vinegar, and cook for a further twenty minutes. You may want to increase the heat a notch – I went for 10 minutes at a ‘3’ and 10 and a ‘4’ on my electric hob. The fruit will start to break down, the colour of the skin and the ripest plums will begin to make its way into all the fruit, and ultimately you’ll have soup.
Allow the fruit soup to cool for about ten minutes, off the heat, and stir well. I stirred the skin back in to the jam – if it skeeves you out, you can remove it, easy. Although if it skeeves you out you might want to just stir it back in so you don’t have to deal with it. Whatever’s clever. Have a wee taste, carefully making sure it’s not too hot to put on your tongue. Add a bit more sugar or a bit more vinegar to taste.
Next, blend the jam – you can use a stick blender or tip it into a blender jug, probably in batches. This is why we let it cool a little – so that it’s no longer like fruit flavoured lava – but it will still hurt if you get it on you, so watch out. You don’t have to blend it, either, you can leave it rustic if you prefer.
There will still be some whole lavender flowers in there that have evaded the blender. I left them in; you can push the jam through a fine sieve at this stage if you’d rather not have bursts of floral fragrance throughout your jam. Again, it’s up to you.
Your jam is now ready. If you have lots of adorable tiny jam jars, put it in them! But realise that since you’re not sealing them up, you’ll have to keep them in the fridge until you can gift them or use them, and you should really do this within a couple of weeks to be on the safe side. This is something I didn’t really think through and now my fridge is full of tiny jars of jam. Cute in the picture, not so cute when I keep knocking them over trying to get at the cheese…
Thank you to Sainsbury’s for the sugar, and look out for my recipes using the vanilla sugar (this one just needs written up) and the cinnamon sugar (recipe developed, but untested…).