The Mini Orchard

It’s been quiet on here for two main reasons: I’ve been working, and I’ve been ill. I’m currently sitting here with a nebuliser after being sick a few times from a hacking cough and raw throat, and am powering on after getting in about three hours of interrupted sleep each night (if I’m lucky).

I am knackered.

Life goes on (I just want to sleep!) and we have received the first tree for our mini orchard: a Blenheim Orange cooker/eater.

Blenheim Orange Apple Tree

For a couple of years I’ve wanted to start a mini orchard, as our two damson trees are so old that it’s a miracle that they produce any fruit, and with the crab apple tree, our options are severely limited. The ancient Victoria plum produced such a heavy crop that it snapped its last remaining bough off, so is now serving as a bird feeder. So apples it is.

I love cooked apples in pretty much any shape or form, and given the price and provenance of apples in the supermarket, I would much rather grow my own. After all, England has historically produced some of the best apple varieties in the world… so why not?

I initially wanted to get three cooker apple trees, but on the advice of followers of my Facebook page, I’m going to get a variety of cookers and eaters… Blenheim Orange, good old fashioned Bramley, and if I can get hold of one, a Charles Ross (cooker/eater).

Stephen from Victoriana Nursery Gardens once told me that you can plant a tree pretty much whenever you can get a spade in the ground. I trust Stephen’s judgement despite the old adage saying that it’s best to plant in during the dormant season, so as soon as the tree has arrived and had a good soak for a couple of hours, we’ll get it in the ground. Just as soon as I can stop coughing up my guts every five minutes…

Easy Raspberry Jam Recipe

Homemade raspberry jam

When I started this blog, seven years ago, I really wanted to be able to make my own jams, chutneys and preserves. I had grown up with a very capable grandmother who made mountains of jams and preserves, and because of her war-time ethos of never, ever throwing anything away, she had cupboards rammed and stacked with marmalades, chutneys and probably cousins’ latest offerings of runner bean wine and the like. They always fascinated me and I naturally assumed that as soon as I was able to grow my own food, I would be able to turn my harvests into all manner of spiced chutneys, sticky jams and pickled produce.

As I mentioned in my jam making part one post, after seven years I finally got around to being able to buy a decent preserving/maslin pan. My first foray into jam making would be with my own homegrown raspberries. This was always the dream. Homegrown, and homemade. And I made it so.

Using a Women’s Institute recipe from my Jams, Chutneys and Preserves book, I opted for a no-pectin approach. So no jam sugar, just cheaper British-grown granulated sugar, the juice of one lemon, and a whole lot of homegrown Polka raspberries. I opted for a 1:1 ratio of picked fruit to sugar. Technically jam should be 60% sugar content, but mine set extremely well, so I’m calling it jam.

With free homegrown raspberries, the cost of the lemon and sugar came to about 95p and produced 3 1/2 jars of jam. So pretty frugal (and tastes better than Bonne Maman).

Here’s my easy raspberry jam recipe that I used. No thermometers, no fuss:

Easy Raspberry Jam Recipe

Ingredients
1lb raspberries
1lb granulated sugar
juice of 1 lemon
knob of butter (I use vegan Pure sunflower spread and it was fine)

Equipment
Recycled jam jars, sterilised*
Maslin/preserving pan
Wooden spoon
Saucer, chilled in the fridge
Jam funnel or ladle and pouring jug

Method

1. Sterilise the jam jars by washing in warm, soapy water and drying off in an oven that is set on a low temperature. Leave the jam jars in the oven until just a few minutes before you are ready to pour in the hot jam.
2. Put all the fruit in the maslin pan and heat up (do not boil!) so that all the juice seeps out of fruit.
3. Once the juice has been extracted from the fruits in the pan, take off the heat and add in the lemon juice and sugar. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved.
4. Put the mixture back onto the heat and bring to a vigorous boil for at least 5 minutes. Stir frequently. Take out your jam jars and line them up close to the jam pan to make pouring easier and more efficient.
5. After 5 minutes, take out your chilled saucer from the fridge and do the set test – dollop a little of your jam mixture onto the plate and leave for one minute. If the jam sets a little and wrinkles slightly on the surface, your jam is ready. If not, boil for a little longer… but be careful, overboiling will take you past the setting point so do a set test frequently. The jam will stay fairly liquid-like in the pan even when pouring, so don’t worry if it seems a little thin.
6. Once you have reached setting point, quickly take the jam off the heat and add a knob of butter (Pure sunflower spread is fine for vegans like me) and stir in to remove the “scum” (this is the frothy air bubbles formed during boiling, that are just removed for aesthetic purposes!).
7. Whilst the jam is still hot (careful!), pour the mixture into the jars. It will begin setting quickly so this has to be fast but precise work. I don’t have a jam funnel yet so ladled the jam into a gravy jug (anything with a pour lip will do) and poured in this way. Screw the lids on each jar straight away and leave to cool.
8. Enjoy!

Jam Making Part One – Homegrown, Homemade Raspberry Jam

Grow your own raspberries

The raspberries ripened recently (try saying that in a hurry!) so after enjoying a few homegrown-homemade apple and raspberry crumbles, I have been picking the ripe and slightly under-ripe fruits daily for the last few days in preparation for my first ever go at jam making. I’ve been freezing the raspberries each day that I’ve been picking them, and have about enough for 4 jars of jam to start me off. Once I’ve found my feet with jam making I’ll be more inclined to make a bigger batch. Small steps.

I recently found a maslin pan half price at John Lewis, and as it was after pay day I seized the opportunity to get a good quality pan for jam making, preserves and maybe even a few chutneys. Who knows what the future holds!

John Lewis maslin pan

I’ve had my Polka raspberry bushes in for about four years now, and they’re doing very well. They’re an autumn fruiting raspberry that fruit in their first year, so the same year that I planted in the canes, I was able to enjoy the large, fat fruits. They’ve fruited successfully every year since, even when the summer has been a bit dismal and perpetually wet. This summer has delivered on the fruit front and we currently have lots of raspberries still left to fruit, as well as a bumper crop of crab apples. So I’m almost set (jam pun not intended)!

Top Jam Making Tips

I’ve been doing my research ahead of my jam making, and here are a few tips that I’ve found:

  • For a jam to be considered as ‘proper jam’ it needs to have over 60% sugar content
  • Raspberries and other berries can be set with sugar jam (which includes pectin to help the jam set, but apparently it can made a pretty ‘solid’ consistency!)
  • Crab apples have a high pectin content, so are perfect for helping jam to set. We have plenty of crab apples that we can use, so I will be opting for this free jam sugar alternative in the future! There seems to be a lot of debate around this so might take a little experimentation…
  • Jam setting point is 104.5°C. Some jam making stalwarts might not need a thermometer, but I’ll be using one to reduce the likelihood of a failed batch!

I’ll keep you updated on the progress this weekend… wish me luck. This could be the start of a new venture into jams and preserves for me… at least, I hope so!

Fresh raspberries frozen

See how my raspberry jam turned out and get my easy raspberry jam recipe here.