June is a busy month for birthdays and occasions in our family, and typically they’re all at the end and within 10 days of each other. Needless to say, June weighs heavy on the purse strings. I was discussing this with my sister, who has her birthday in June, and she gave me a challenge of making her birthday gift this year rather than buying her something. What a great idea I thought, and while I’m at it, I’ll make a birthday gift for my Mam too, whose birthday is the day after my sister’s.
Now, what was I to make? I wanted to keep the cost down, but I wanted to make something special that looked good too.
Jam. Everybody loves jam, and the jars can look fancy too can’t they? That was settled. I’d make a lovely batch of home-made jam using fruits and flavours from the allotment. While I was at the allotment on Thursday I cast my eye over the plot to see what I could use. The rhubarb is still producing a few stalks so I picked a few of those, and then I saw it. The perfect accompaniment to the rhubarb: elderflowers. There’s something about the taste of elderflowers that just says “summers here”. The elder tree is actually in the park, just on the other side of the allotment fence and overhangs the plot ever so slightly, so because I had to climb up onto the fence to reach the flowers, I think this technically counts as foraging. Armed with my goodies I set off homeward bound to make the jam.
I love baking, and have baked regularly for a number of years now but I’ve never made jam before. It’s always seemed so technical to me with all the talk of setting points and wrinkle tests, but I do like to try new things, so, not put off by my lack of experience, I ploughed on. As I was assessing my ingredients, one thing became clear, I didn’t have enough fruit. The 4 stalks of rhubarb I’d brought back were definitely not enough to make jam. The only fruit I could think of that would go with the rest of the ingredients was strawberries but my strawberries at the allotment are nowhere near ready yet, so reluctantly I called into the shops and bought a couple of punnets to bulk up the fruit.
Once I was happy with the amount of fruit, I got started on preparing them for the first stage; infusion.
I soaked the Elderflowers in water to make sure no little creatures were hiding, then washed and rinsed them again.
I chopped the rhubarb into small chunks and hulled and halved the strawberries.
The rhubarb went into the bowl first and I covered the chunks in sugar, then I alternated the strawberries and the sugar, until there was only one more portion of strawberries remaining. The upturned Elderflowers went into the bowl, then I added the final layer of strawberries and sugar.
I left the mixture over night to allow the sugar to get to work on the fruit and pull all the lovely flavours out and into a syrup.
The next day, I sterilised the jam jars, and got to work on making the jam. I was in two minds as to whether I should put some of the actual flowers into the jam too, but as it was going to be a gift, I thought it best to pull all the flowers out.
Slowly I heated the fruity syrup until all the sugar had dissolved and then brough the mixture to a rolling boil. After a few minutes I tried the wrinkle test on a really cold saucer (if the jam has reached setting point, a tea-spoon of mixture dropped onto a really cold saucer should form a skin and wrinkle when prodded with your finger after a few moments)
It wrinkled! Fantastic. I wasn’t sure how long it had taken to get to setting point so I let the mixture boil for about 3-4 more minutes then turned off the heat. The result was a lovely deep red fruity jam.
Carefully I transferred some of the jam to a measuring jug and filled the hot jam jars. The lids went on straight away and I turned the filled jars upside down. Apparently this is to help form the seal and to keep the jam in tip-top condition.
I found some squares of material and cut out large circles to cover the lids and hey presto! Gifts from the garden.
I can’t just give a jar of jam for a birthday gift, so for my Mam, I whipped up a batch of scones, popped them into a basket and I had a lovely gift. My sister is in Glastonbury for the festival at the moment so won’t be back for a few days. When she does get back, I’ll magic up some fresh scones for her too.
My son and I also made a pebble art picture using wool and some pebbles. It’s a really simple idea and works really well put into a box picture frame.
My Mam was delighted when I gave her the gifts last night. Of course we had to try the jam and scones (the scones were still warm).
I think the jams a winner!