Now is a great time of year to start filling your larder with jars of delicious homemade, seasonal delights that you can enjoy well into the winter months. You can capture the last of those late, sweet summer berries or some fresh autumnal veggies and get creative in the kitchen. Keep reading for a bit of background information on jam making, the differences between jams and preserves and our top tips to get you creating.

History Of Jam Making

Jam making requires the use of sugar and we have been using it to preserve fruit since the 16th century when the Spanish colonised the West Indies. Sugar used to be so incredibly expensive that only the wealthy, mainly royalty, could afford to buy it. This is evidently portrayed in the images of such characters. King Louis XIV was well known for his sweet tooth and served jams, made with the fruit from his very own gardens, regularly at the end of his royal feasts.

Whilst we can probably picture our great grandmothers standing in the kitchen making jam, sugar was still rather unaffordable in the 19th century. The evolution of jam has changed considerably over the years. Not only the fruit to sugar ratio but the fruit used also. Popular fruits during the Tudor times included medlar fruit (similar to apples) and quince. The Victorians introduced more exotic fruits such as pineapples, apricots, bananas, melons and oranges to include in their recipes as well as traditional hedgerow berries, rhubarb and strawberries.

The Story Of Pickles

Pickles are made by submerging fresh fruit or vegetables in vinegar or a brine until they are no longer considered to be raw.  

Pickling began around 4000 years ago when cucumbers were native to India.  It was used as a way to preserve food for out of season use and to take on long journeys, particularly at sea.  Pickles provided sustenance for hungry sailors and travellers as well as many families during the colder, winter months.  Pickles were said to have been one of Cleopatra’s ‘prized beauty secrets’ and there are references to them in the Bible and in Shakespeare’s work.    

Immigrants arriving in New York in the late 1800s introduced Kosher dill pickles to the country.  Cucumbers were washed and then placed in wooden barrels along with dill, garlic and other herbs and spices as well as kosher salt and clean water.  The barrels were left for several weeks or months producing a variety of half and full sour flavours.  The immigrants sold the pickles from carts in the streets to earn a living and they became vastly popular.  

Today, pickles are not limited to cucumbers and you can pickle almost any type of fresh produce.  Popular vegetables include cauliflower, radishes, onions, green beans and cabbage.   

What’s The Difference Between Jam & Preserves?

Whilst jams and preserves are not too dissimilar, there is a difference. Jams are made using crushed or mashed fruit whereas preserves have whole or large fruit pieces. When using small fruits such as blackberries or raspberries, there often is very little difference between the two because these fruits do not hold their form well during the cooking process.

There is a regulation in the UK for jam. For it to be legally named a jam it has to contain a minimum of 60% sugars (a combination of natural fruit sugars and added sugar). A jam must contain a minimum of 35% fruit (25% for blackcurrants) and both of these details must be listed on the label. Typically, preserves will have a much higher fruit content.

Top Tips For Getting Started

  • Sterilise - it’s incredibly important to sterilise your jars and equipment to reduce the risk of contamination and the entry of bacteria which could spoil your creations.  Jars and lids should be washed in hot soapy water and if oven safe, can be put in a low oven for 10 minutes.  The rubber seals can be placed in boiling water.  
  • Use Perfect Produce - You should only use fruit and vegetables that are in perfect condition for pickling and jam making.  This will prevent your pickles and jam from spoiling.  If your produce is a little past its best, then a chutney would be a better use.  
  • No Special Pan Required - Contrary to  belief, you do not need a special preserving pan.  A large, deep saucepan works just as well.  It’s better to use a nice wide pan for jams to aid evaporation and a quicker cooking time.
  • Take Extra Care - Sugar becomes exceptionally hot so it’s advisable to use long handled spoons when producing jams and chutneys.  It may be best to wear an oven glove or a mitt when stirring.  
  • Have Plenty Of Spares -  Pickles and chutneys have a high acidity level and require a jar lid with a plastic coated lining.  If you are using specific preserving jars, it is worth noting that the seal element is only suitable for single use and so once broken, the lid will need replacing, so it’s a good idea to stock up with spares.
  • Retighten Lids - Once you have placed lids on your jars of hot jam, preserve or pickle and the product cools, a vacuum will form.  You will need to retighten the lids to ensure the seal is kept securely.
  • Vinegar Type -  If you are making pickles then you will need a vinegar with at least 6% acidity.  Wine or malt vinegar is a good choice.  Cider vinegar won’t work as well as it is milder and much lower in acidic levels. 
  • Use Coarse Salt - Coarse salt offers the best clarity for pickling.  Table salt often contains a caking agent that can turn the vinegar cloudy.
  • Don’t Label Whilst Hot - You will need to allow your jars to cool completely before labelling because the heat will prevent the labels from sticking properly.
  • Long Shelf Life - Unopened jars of pickles, jams and preserves will keep for several months if they are kept in a cool and dark place.  Once opened it’s best to store them in the fridge and consume within a month of opening. 

At Lawsons we have a fantastic range of jam making and pickling equipment including jars, lids, seals, straining kits and much more so that you can easily produce your own preserved jars of deliciousness.  There are plenty of recipes available that are sure to ignite some inspiration, the possibilities are endless but there's no need to go out of your way to choose ingredients.  It’s fantastically sustainable to use fruit and vegetables that are available locally to you.  We hope that you found this blog both interesting and useful and we look forward to supplying you with everything you need to get started.  You can browse our full range of Preserving products here.