Jam making is very much an activity we reserve for the colder months of the year. Rainy days especially. There is something very cheering about having a huge pan of brightly coloured fruit and sugar bubbling away on the stove, while rain patters against the window panes. This weekend though, it was not only rain that accompanied our jam making afternoon, but a garden blanketed in softly melting snow.
It was the first snowfall to settle on the smallholding since we moved here. We opened the curtains to a complete white out. Layer upon layer of powdery snow and tiny icicles clinging to the branches of the fruit trees. The orchard was covered so deeply that the streamside drifts of budded daffodils were completely buried. The raised beds in the vegetable garden disappeared under the snow too, along with our newly sown onions and shooting garlic, leaving just the tops of the kale and sprouting broccoli on show. Unfortunately for us, these were quickly spotted by a tubby wood pigeon, who has now put a significant dent in our supply of winter greens for the kitchen. Despite these little spring setbacks, we couldn’t help but be delighted by the snow’s arrival. It just looked beautiful.
The geese and chickens, on the other hand, didn’t share our enamour for the snowy orchard landscape. The chickens ventured onto the snow that morning, squawked loudly, got themselves (literally) in a flap, then refused to touch the ground again until it melted. They spent three days in snow avoidance mode, moving in a huddle between their house and its roof, the wooden rain shelter, and the lower branches of the orchard trees. The geese tolerated the snow with some curiosity on the first day. They determinedly followed their usual route around the orchard, taking plenty of breaks to sit down and warm their feet in their feathers. By day two, however, they’d had quite enough and opted to spend all their time in the stream. With a big bowl of wheat in hand, we just about managed to coax them out of the water at nightfall. Even then, two of the girls had to be carried back to the goose shed because the poor geese were so worried about sinking into the snow as they waddled.
On the final snow day, after a quick rootle through the freezer stores, and firmly located in the warmth of the kitchen, we made jam. Last summer, when the currants and berries were plentiful and prolific, we froze the surplus. We’ve been regularly dipping into the fruit stores since then: a handful of blueberries for breakfast pancakes; some plump gooseberries for a pie; a few delicate strings of redcurrants to festoon a cheesecake. The frozen blackcurrants have always been destined to be cooked with some fresh bay leaves to make one of our favourite jams.
This jam has all the wonderful tangy sweetness you would expect from blackcurrants, but with a subtle herbaceous note from the bay leaves, which is delicious. We like our jams to have a little bit of give in them, so in the final stage of cooking, we heat the bubbling mixture to 102°C, rather than the firmer, traditional set point of 104°C. We love eating the blackcurrant and bay leaf jam dolloped on top of a big bowl of breakfast porridge; layered on sponge cakes; or spooned into classic jam tarts. Best of all though, is simply swirling it through a cupful of thick yoghurt.
Blackcurrant and Bay Leaf Jam
Makes approx. 2.5kg jam
- 1.2 kg frozen blackcurrants
- 1.2 l water
- 8 large bay leaves
- 1.3 kg granulated sugar
Put the blackcurrants, water and bay leaves into a preserving pan, place on a high heat and bring to a strong simmer. Turn the heat down a little and let the blackcurrants cook gently for 15-20 minutes until they are lovely and soft.
Pour the sugar into the pan and stir slowly until dissolved. Turn the heat up again and bring the mixture to a vigorous boil. While the mix is boiling, insert a jam thermometer to the pan. When the jam reaches 104°C it has reached setting point. However, we tend to take it off the heat a little earlier at 102°C, so that the finished jam has a little more give in it and a less firm set.
Remove the bay leaves if you wish. Then pour into clean, sterilised jars and seal. The jam should keep for around a year.