Eating the seasons with Adrien Giacchero!
Whenever I go to the supermarket, I am always surprised to see that the fruit and vegetable section looks almost the same in July and in February. Supermarkets maintain us in some kind of utopian season in which everything is available all the time. It is as if they were trying to accomplish the great fantasy of stopping time and foiling the inevitable succession of years and seasons. The problem is that we are now so accustomed to year-round availability that we are losing the knowledge of what is in season.
Yet following the rhythm of the seasons can be a proper bliss. It is the best way to enjoy products at their very best, appreciating the ripest fruits and vegetables, savouring the most sustainable seafood and tasting the most succulent cheeses. There is also something almost sentimental about the long-awaited reunion after a year apart. The pleasure of seeing asparagus or strawberries on the market stalls as the days become longer and longer; the comfort of eating citrus fruits and forced rhubarb in the gloomy winter evenings.
There are also many ways to carry the products from one season to another, from freezing to fermenting, pickling and, of course, making preserves. Every summer, in the pure Italian style, in his beloved Provence, my grandfather used to prepare litres and litres of tomato passata as well as dozens of apricot, fig, peach and strawberry jams for the whole family to enjoy over the winter. After he passed away, I decided to continue that tradition proving that whilst I can’t stop time, I can at least carry a bit of the summer vibe into the British winter.
With summer finally here, now is the perfect time to prepare jams at home with the very best local and seasonal fruits. I would usually go for apricot, peach, rhubarb or strawberry and then, in the late summer, figs, pears and plums. Opening an apricot jam jar in a cold winter day is an indescribable pleasure, bringing a glimpse of sun and the promise of spring around the corner. But you obviously don’t have to wait for the winter to enjoy your preserves! These jams will be perfect when baking a delicious Victoria Sponge for a nice summer picnic in Thomas More Gardens or just enjoying a nice sunny breakfast on your balcony… They can also be a nice little present for friends, or can be used for bartering your latest Barbicantalk free acquisition, whether it’s an old jigsaw, an old drying rack or a big roll of bubble wrap.
Now, let’s get cooking… Making jams at home is relatively easy and straightforward. Here is the very basic jam recipe I am following as a starting point, but don’t be afraid to be more creative and work your way up by experimenting different spices and fruit combinations. Why not adding some lavender or thyme to a pear jam, a bit of Pimm’s to pimp up your strawberry jam or some Italian vermouth with some peaches for instance? One thing is certain: be prepared to say goodbye to store-bought jam (sorry, Waitrose).
Homemade jam recipe
For about 6 jars
- 2 kg Fruits
- 1,3 kg Granulated sugar
- 1 Lemon
- Wash your fruits and cut them into pieces. Mix them with the sugar and the lemon juice and let them macerate for 24 hours. Doing so will help to make the jam even more flavoursome.
- The next day, pour the mixture into a stockpot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Stir regularly with a spatula to prevent the jam from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. Cooking time varies depending on the fruit but it shouldn’t take more than 15 to 20 min after boiling. Not sure if it’s ready or not? The jam has to reach a temperature of at least 105°C in order to settle. You can use a kitchen thermometer to check or try the so-called “wrinkle test.” Before preparing the jam, place a small plate in your freezer. When you think your jam is ready, spoon a little onto it and let it stand for a few seconds. Nudge the surface of the jam with your finger: if it wrinkles and gets a little solid, it’s done!
- Once ready, immediately pour the jam into sterilised jars using a ladle and funnel, filling them almost to the brim. Seal them tightly and turn them over until they are cooled down.
- As a rule of thumb, use a ratio of 60% fruit for 40% sugar – but you can even make it 80% fruit / 20% sugar for sweeter fruits like figs.
- For fruits low in pectin (such as apricots, strawberries or rhubarb), you will need to add some extra pectin so that the jam sets properly. Use the natural pectin contained in lemon juice or seeds rather than store-bough pectin or jam sugar which can make the jam a bit too thick and can alter the fruity flavour. Agar agar or chia seeds can also be used as gelling agents in lieu of pectin. It is also better to opt for ripe or nearly ripe fruits – which have higher levels of pectin – than overripe fruits which contain lower levels.
- Sterilise the jars and lids by washing them in hot soapy water, rinsing and draining them before placing them in the oven at 150°C for 20 min. The jams will then keep for almost a year if properly sealed. No need to buy fancy Kilner or Le Parfait jars – you can reuse any old glass jars, as long as the lid is not damaged.
- The pros recommend the use of a proper copper jam pot, but a good heavy-bottomed stockpot will do.
- Patience is key: don’t try to cook the jam at high temperature to save a bit of time, or rush the pouring into the jars as it could just ruin all your efforts!
- If you are making apricot jam, I would really recommend adding a few apricot almonds which will enhance the flavour of the jam. Just crack the stones with a nutcracker to get the almonds and let them macerate with the fruits.