So the story goes that one day we were hanging out with P’s gran who mentioned that she has a tree full of cumquats. Having never eaten a cumquat before I was naturally curious and agreed at the time that I would take the fruit and create something with them. P’s gran remarked that she particularly enjoyed cumquat marmalade and that I should have a go at it. I agreed, slightly hesitant because a. I have never made marmalade before, b. I don’t particularly like marmalade, and c. because I still consider myself to be a pretty terrible jam-maker.
Paul returned from her place a few days later with a tiny specimen, which I promptly peeled and shoved in my gob. It was unpleasant to say the least. It pretty much blew my head off – think sour warheads and you’re in the general vicinity. As my cheeks puckered and I cried out in disbelief at what I had just eaten, P laughed his head off and remarked that people rarely eat cumquats in their natural state, fewer still eat them whole.
So I was not off to a great start. A couple of weeks later a bag of these little atomic warheads arrived in our kitchen. A whole bag of the buggers. Suggestions are made about what to do with them – marmalade, soaking in brandy, poaching, drying etc. etc. I decide after poring over a series of recipes that I might as well give marmalade a go as P’s gran had spoken so fondly of it. So I set about peeling these little buggers – chop, peel, de-seed, thinly slice, drop in the pot. After an hour of peeling P comes in to find out where I’d disappeared to.
‘These are Satan’s own fruit!’ I remarked as I waved my wrinkled hands in his face to demonstrate frustration. “It will all be worth it” he says as he slinks out of the kitchen and away from the crazy woman wielding a knife and tiny atomic warheads. About fifteen minutes later the job is done and I’m weighing out sugar and water like a pro. About 45 minutes later I had completed my first ever batch of marmalade and you know what? It tastes pretty bloody great.
The recipe: I’ve decided that jam recipes should work in ratios as it is a rare day that one has exactly 1 kilo of anything they’ve grown themselves – I don’t know about you but I either have too much or not enough, so while this recipe calls for 1 kilo of fruit/sugar, feel free to decrease according to how much fruit you have on hand (ie. If you have 600g of fruit, use 600g of sugar/water). I find it easiest to prep the fruit and then weigh it so that your ratios are exact.
On making jam: Having bottled more than my fair share of failed batches of jam, I have come to accept that sugar, pectin and ferocious boiling (but only after the sugar has dissolved!) are key to getting a good set. If you are short on sugar or pectin, your jam probably won’t set, and don’t even think about doubling a batch because you’ve got a lot of fruit – trust me when I say it will be quicker to make two batches. I’ve found using a thermometer takes some of the guess work out of my jam-making – once you hit 105(C) you can start testing for set. To test for set I put a plate in the freezer and leave for 5 minutes. When the jam is ready to test (this is where a thermometer comes in handy), I drop a blob of jam on the chilled plate and pop it back in the freezer for a minute. Take it out and run your finger through the center of the blob. If the jam has set the sides will crinkle and stay parted, if it runs it’s not quite ready. Keep cooking and test again every 5-10 minutes.
In summary: I got this jam to set so (fingers crossed) you will be able to do it too. Yes, it is a labour of love and will likely cause you to shudder at any future offers of tiny, sour (but ultimately delicious) specimens, but the jam really is very lovely and you’ll be able to feel that warm glow of self-satisfaction that comes with a nicely set jar of jam. If it doesn’t set, it will still be delicious just keep it in the fridge, have it over ice cream or on pancakes, and chalk it up to experience.
- 1 part fruit (ie. 1 kilo)
- 1 caster sugar (ie. 1 kilo)
- 1 part water (ie. 1 litre)
- 1 teaspoon of Pectin/Jam Setta (*optional)
- 1 large pot
- A piece of cheesecloth or clean chux
- Jars and lids
- **You will be using all of the fruit, so don’t discard the pips.**
- First halve the fruit and remove the skin.
- Set the skin aside and remove the seeds from the remaining flesh.
- Pop the flesh into a large bowl and the pips into a small bowl.
- Thinly slice the skin – as thinly as possible, and add to the bowl with the flesh.
- Continue until all done – this might take a while!
- Once prepared, weigh the skin/flesh and, in another bowl, weigh out the same amount of sugar and water.
- Place all the pips in a piece of cheesecloth or clean chux and wrap tightly to create a small bag.
- Tie a long piece of string around the top of the bag and put in the pot.
- Tie the string to the side of the pan so that it is easy to retrieve later.
- Add the skin and water to your jam pot and bring to a rolling simmer.
- Simmer for 20 minutes and check to see how tender the skin has become – you want it to pretty much dissolve in your mouth. Depending on how thinly you have sliced your rind it may be done or it may require further cooking (up to an hour).
- When skin is soft enough, turn the heat down to medium and remove the pips.
- Squeeze out excess liquid from the cheesecloth (careful.. HOT!).
- Add the sugar and pectin (if using) to the pan and stir until all dissolved.
- Turn heat up to medium-high and bring to a rolling boil.
- Pop jars in the oven now to sterilise and put a plate in the freezer for testing.
- Stir often to prevent sticking/burning.
- It will probably take about 20 minutes for your jam to get up to heat. Start testing once your jam reaches 105 degrees centigrade (if you’re using a thermometer) or when you notice the mixture starting to thicken and change in texture.
- To test, grab your plate from the freezer and drop a small amount of jam onto it. Put back in the freezer for a minute and then remove.
- Run your finger slowly through the centre of the blob. If the jam crinkles and stays separated as you run your finger through it is ready, if it is still runny then it needs a bit longer.
- Cook for a further 5 minutes and test again.
- Once set has been reached remove from the heat and bottle in your clean jars.
- Allow to cool on the bench.
- Store at room temperature – in the fridge once opened.