It’s summer in Australia and that means lots of fresh berries. At Victoria Markets there were punnets of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries, cheap and in abundance. I’d walked to the market and, unfortunately, my backpack was now straining at the seams. There was no room or no way I could safely carry the delicate fruit on the long walk home.
It was a shame as the riper berries would make great jam and my supply of homemade Mulberry Conserve was running out. I would take the car next time and buy lots more produce…berries included!
During the weekend I’d made an orange, ricotta and berry tart and ran out of apricot jam to glaze it. A rushed trip to the supermarket resulted in the purchase of this nasty brown looking gloop that, according to the label, was apricot conserve. I boiled and sieved it and it did the job, but looked so disgusting I could never imagine serving it with a lovely batch of home-made scones.
Even the local Coles supermarket had punnets of strawberries on sale. There really was no excuse to buy factory made jam.
Making jam in massive quantities was such a familiar thing when I was growing up. We lived in a fruit-growing area. Pickling and bottling the excess was always a very big job, usually conducted on a 40 degree sweltering summers day. Huge cauldrons of molten sugary jam, boiling away, spitting on, and burning that delicate skin of our inner arms while we each took our turn at stirring the pot. No one wanted to let the jam catch and burn. I dreaded this job but totally accepted it was a country woman’s rite of passage, learnt before we’d become good wives and mothers. No pain, no gain but jars and jars of jam!
You can imagine my horror when I handed my city living mother-in-law a jar of homemade apricot jam and she had the audacity to ask,
“Did you do this in the microwave?” and I nearly choked! I looked at her as if she’d suggested I run nude down the main street. Microwaving and jam just wasn’t in my culinary vocabulary.
“No, I did it the proper way,” I responded with far too much self-righteous indignation. What would the Methodist church ladies think!
That was a long time ago and I don’t live in the country and things have changed. You see now I live in the inner city. We have a small house, an even tinier backyard and absolutely no room for fruit trees. The only time there is an abundance of jam making fruit is when those little supermarket punnets are on sale. And now decades later I must confess ‘microwave’ and ‘jam’ is most definitely part of my culinary vocabulary and I apologise, posthumously, to Heather for me being such a pompous Diva!
In fact it was only a few weeks ago that I’d used her method to make the aforementioned mulberry jam and this is the story behind it…
It was the first week of January and we’d spent the last ten days touring the wine districts of South Australia, The Clare Valley, The Barossa, The Adelaide Hills, McLarin Vale, Langhorne Creek and lastly, on our way back to Melbourne, the Coonawarra. Accommodation in the area was in short supply and rather than some luxurious boutique hotel in the heart of Shiraz Country we had no choice but to settle for a holiday rental in the nearby town of Naracoorte.
It had been a long hot day and I was the designated driver. I was dreading what we might find at the country cottage. What I really wanted was somewhere with a pool, room service and some very chilled wine.
We pulled up to a gorgeous old stone farm-house.
It was so not what I imagined it would be like. We opened the door and were pleased to find a very long corridor, polished floorboards, high decorative ceilings and blissfully cool airconditioning. It felt friendly and welcoming, nothing like the fibro shack I’d expected. We chose a bedroom each.
In the centre of the house was a big lounge room. Comfy chairs, television and an open fireplace (that would be brilliant in winter).
Toward the back of the house was a huge kitchen with a lovely 10 seater dining table. The owner had been generous in stocking the cupboards and fridge. Real butter, a choice of milks, jams and condiments, vinegars, olive oil, a gorgeous hamper of breakfast goodies and a welcoming bottle of the local wine.
Outside was a big shady old-fashioned garden, complete with fruit trees and a grape-vine. It reminded me so much of the gardens I’d grown up with.
But the very best thing we discovered was this beautiful big old mulberry tree groaning with ripe purple fruit.
As the sun set and the night cooled we decided to sit outside under the veranda. The boys took up their rightful place at the barbecue and Karyn brought me a glass of chilled Riesling. We sat and talked about what we might do with the Mulberries.
The smell of the leaves reminded us all of primary school and breeding silkworms. As Kids we were all required to bring bags full of Mulberry leaves to feed those voracious grubs. What did happen with the creatures when the science experiment was over?
The following morning Karyn and I got up early, before the heat cooked any more berries, and picked away.
And between mouthfuls managed to get a nice big bowl full.
While we picked the boys cooked breakfast. A fortifying spread that would set us up for the six hour drive to Melbourne.
After brekky it was time to pack up and say farewell to the lovely farm-house.
We packed the berries in ice, said goodbye to Naracoorte and returned to the city.
We got home at about four in the afternoon and while the men sorted the wine I decided to do something with the now overly ripe and somewhat squashed berries and finally give you the secret of microwave jam.
MICROWAVE BERRY JAM (or inner city, small quantity, jam!)
This method is NOT suitable for LARGE quantities but perfect for a small punnet or any amount up to 500 grams (1lb). Any larger and you probably should get the big pots out. This is ideal when you purchase over ripe berries and can’t really use them fresh…you know the ones with the good berries on top and the shitty ones on the bottom, usually on sale at the end of the day.
Fresh berries (weighed to find exact weight) up to 500gms (1lb)*
White sugar (equal to weight of berries)*
1 or 2 thoroughly cleaned jars.
1-Place small saucer in freezer (this cooled plate will be used to test if jam is done)
2-First wash and remove stems or any inedible berries or plant matter.
3-Weigh berries. In this case, 400 gms and place in high sided microwave proof bowl.
4-Then weigh an equal quantity of white sugar, to match weight of berries…in this case 400gms and mix with berries.
*Do not use cup measures as the ratios will be incorrect, you must use scales and weigh the fruit- 1 cup of sugar does NOT weigh the same as 1 cup of berries.
5-Place bowl in microwave on high and cook for at least ten minutes or until jam starts to boil.
6-Remove from microwave and stir jam, checking that all sugar is dissolved and jam is bubbling away.
7-Keep repeating this process until it’s reduced by at least one-third and looks like jam. The cooking time will vary according to type of fruit and power of microwave.
The liquid should be darker, syrupy and not at all watery.
8-To test whether jam is done put a small amount on your cooled saucer, hold it upright and see if jam runs. It should be thick and barely move before setting. When this happens you know your jam is done.
9-Pour hot jam into jars and screw on lids. You may need to have a few different sized jars at hand. This is not an exact science.
I love to use tiny little jars as they make gorgeous gifts.
400 gms of Mulberries produced these two jars.
That night, with the left over fresh fruit and a few extra dollops of jam, I made a Clafoutis. Will post recipe later.
The following day the heat had ended, it was cool and rainy.
And perfect weather to stay inside and bake a batch of scones. Afternoon tea is such an underrated thing!
And of course there was plenty of jam for the sourdough toast the next morning!
PS I know it’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere but I’m sure you’ll be able to find a nice little punnet of berries, a little over ripe, on sale, and absolutely perfect for a small quantity of jam!
Cheers Anna x
PPS You may like to see what Christina does with jam in CAPTURING THE LOST WOMAN, Book 2, Chapter 3…!!!
Love you to read my books.
The Lost Woman series follows the sexy adventures of Christina as she makes her way through a world of new media, design, fashion, travel, and … men.
A perfect read for those of you looking for something after Fifty Shades of Grey.
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