How to Make Jam Without Cane Sugar

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Jam from last year’s harvest. Apricot, strawberry and peach.

Jam made with honey brings out the flavour of the fruit, and tastes better than jam made with refined cane sugar. It keeps well too.

Making jam with honey isn’t a very well known skill. There are some recipes around online, but they’re often designed to be a small batch that’s kept in the fridge and used up quickly, not for serious fruit preservation. Jam should be something that can be stored for a year in the cupboard, to bring light and sweetness to frosty winter mornings, to fill in the ‘hungry gap’ in springtime, and to just enjoy on top of warm scones, fresh from the oven, served with plenty of cream. American recipes for jam tend to use water bath canning as a final step to the recipe, but traditional English food preservation rarely involves this, and jam recipes never call for it.

To make our jam keep for longer, we add enough honey to the mixture to prevent the jam from spoiling, cook it for long enough to get rid of anything in the fruit that might spoil it, put it into sterile jars when it’s hot, and turn the jars upside down when they have their lids on, so that all of the surface is exposed to the hot jam, and there’s no oxygen, and no way for liquid to condense on the lid and drip into the jam.  Another traditional way of storing jam keep is to pour a layer of lard on top of it (you’ll still need your jars to be sterile to do this, traditional jam recipes often involve keeping the jars hot in the oven while you make the jam).

Making jam should be an intuitive process. Sometimes the fruit will have more juice, sometimes less. Sometimes the fruit will have more pectin to help it set, sometimes it won’t. It’s best to just start early in the day to give the jam plenty of time to reduce. If you rush it, then you’ll end up with a sauce that’s good to have as a topping or with yoghurt, but it will be too runny to spread on a slice of toast. If you use good fruit, good honey and give it plenty of time, you will have the best jam in the world.

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Mulberry jam.

Here is my recipe:
Berry Jam
Makes around 3 half pint jars

1 kg mulberries (or other berries)
600g honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice

This ratio of 1kg of fruit to 600g of honey will work for most fruits, just make sure to weigh the fruit after you’ve removed the stones or other bits you won’t be using, and add enough honey for this weight.

Put the fruit in a pot, smash it up a bit with a wooden spoon, and bring to the boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook uncovered for around 20 minutes, or until it looks as though most of the liquid has evaporated, stirring every so often to prevent it from burning.  You may need a lot less than 20 minutes, depending on the fruit. Stir through the honey and bring to the boil over medium or medium-high heat. It might froth up a bit, so make sure to be around to stir it when it does this. Keep cooking over medium-high heat, enough for it to be bubbling, but not so much that it’s boiling over or burning, stirring every so often. Cook until it appears to be fairly thick, and then start testing small amounts of jam on a cold plate to see if it’s reached a good setting consistency, it will take a minute or two to cool down on the plate, so make sure it’s fully cold before you test for setting. I test for setting by tilting the plate slightly and seeing if it runs, and by clearing a path through it and seeing if the line stays there.  Keep boiling and testing every so often until it sets well when it’s cold, then put the jam into clean jars, put the lids on, then turn upside down for 5 minutes, before turning them back the right side up again.

This jam will keep in the cupboard for around a year.

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Apricot, strawberry, blackberry, and raspberry.

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