Plums, greengages and damsons

I have a small Victoria plum tree in my garden in Suffolk, and I love eating them straight from the tree in late summer, giving them a faint squeeze to see which ones are fully ripe, then eating just a few each day for breakfast and lunch until they’re all gone.

There are several other varieties of home-grown plums, all suitable for cooking or eating raw when fully ripe. Greengages, because of their colour, are deceptive – they can look unripe and forbidding but taste very sweet. I like to cook both greengages and plums in a compote of Marsala wine – see recipe below. Damsons are my favourite members of the plum family. The true damson is small and oval, almost almond-shaped, with dark indigo-purple skin, covered in a soft bloom and bright-green, sharp-sour flesh that when cooked with sugar, produces darker, reddish-purple juice. The secret of the damson’s utter charm is that because it’s a sharp fruit its flavour is not killed by sugar, so damson jam remains perfectly tart and not over-sweet. One of my all-time favourite recipes is for Damson Chutney: in over 30 years I’ve never been without a little hoard of it stashed away in my cupboard under the stairs. It does wonders for bangers or makes a very sophisticated accompaniment to cold cuts, and I particularly love serving sausages with jacket potatoes and dipping the potato skins in a luscious pile of damson chutney.

Damson Jam Recipe

Click picture to enlarge.

The British weather produces the best damsons in the world. Damson jam has a bitter sweet taste which is perfect. Easy to make this is the ideal use for excess damsons.


Preparation: 40 minutes Cooking Time:

50 minutes

How Difficult Easy Freeze? No

Three jars

When the damson jam is cooked you will need to test if the jam mixture has set / reached setting point. This is not complicated and the video below explains exactly how to do this.

Damsons are high in pectin so at the end of cooking it is highly likely that the damson jam will have set / reached setting point.




How Much

Damsons 1kg / 2.2lbs
Sugar (normal type) 1kg / 2.2lbs
Water 400ml / ¾ pint

Large stainless steel pan. If you use non-stainless steel pans the acid in the fruit will react with the pan metal, damaging the pan and spoiling the jam flavour.

Jam jars with lids. Any type of glass jar can be used, ideally with a lid that seals as the jam cools. Examples include jars from cook-in sauces, chutney, shop bought jams etc.



Place two small plates in the freezer.
Wash the damsons and remove any stalks.
Wash the jam jars and lids in very hot water. Heat the oven to 140°C / 275°F / Gas Mark 1 and place the jam jars (not the lids) in the oven for 30 minutes. Do this while the jam is cooking.


Add the damsons and water to a pan on a medium heat and simmer for around half an hour. Every five minutes or so break up the damsons with a spoon as they cook. This will also release the stones from the fruit.

Add the sugar and stir continuously for five minutes until completely dissolved. Remove the stones from the jam mixture.

Turn the heat up to high and allow the jam mixture to boil for about 10 minutes. Test to see if the jam has set / reached setting point (see video above). If the jam has not set boil for a further two minutes.

Pot up the jam into the warm (not cold) sterilised jam containers. Seal with a cap and label. Allow the jam to cool at room temperature before using.


Blackberry jelly


  1. Prepare a jelly bag or tea towel by boiling in water for 2-3 minutes. Wring well and leave to cool. Arrange the jelly bag on a stand or up-turned stool with a large bowl beneath, ready for the fruit juice to drip through.

  2. Place the blackberries, apple, water and lemon juice in a preserving or large, heavy based saucepan.

  3. Bring to the boil, then simmer over a low heat for 20-25 minutes or until the fruit is completely soft.

  4. Tip the soft fruit and juice into the jelly bag and leave to drip for 8 hours or until all the juice has been released.

  5. Prepare the jam jars by washing in hot soapy water and leaving to dry and warm in a cool oven – 130C/250F/Gas ½ for 10-15 minutes.

  6. Measure the juice. For every 600ml/1 pint weigh 450g/1lb sugar. Put the juice and sugar back into the clean preserving pan, heat over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved, add the crème de cassis, if using. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until setting point is reached.

  7. Skim away any scum from the top of the jelly and fill the jam jars to the brim. Cover, seal and label. Store in a cool, dark place until required.

  1. Wash your jars and lids in hot, soapy water, rinse, then place on a baking tray and put in a low oven for 10 mins or until completely dry. If you want to use rubber seals, remove the seals and cover in just-boiled water. Make sure you sterilise any funnels, ladles or spoons you’re going to be using too.

  2. Put the fruit into a jam pan or a large, wide, heavy-based saucepan. Leave the stones in (see tip below). Add 150ml water and bring to the boil. Put a couple of saucers in the freezer. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 mins or until the fruit is soft.

  3. Tip in the sugar and stir over a very low heat until the sugar has completely dissolved, up to 10 mins. This step is vital – if you don’t dissolve the sugar, the bottom of the pan may catch and burn. Raise the heat, bring to a full rolling boil, then rapidly boil for 10 minutes. Don’t stir until the setting point of 105C is reached. If you don’t have a thermometer, test the jam by spooning a little onto a cold saucer. Wait a few seconds, then push the jam with your fingertip. If it wrinkles, the jam is ready. If not, cook for a few mins more and test again, with another cold saucer. Once you have reached 105C or setting point, stir the jam thoroughly.

  4. Remove from the heat, skim off any excess scum, then stir a knob of butter into the surface (this helps to dissolve any remaining scum). Leave for about 15 mins so the fruit can settle – if you decant the jam too soon, all the fruit will sink to the bottom. Pour into sterilised jars, label and seal.

Damson jam

  1. Wash your jars and lids in hot, soapy water, rinse, then place on a baking tray and put in a low oven for 10 mins or until completely dry. If you want to use rubber seals, remove the seals and cover in just-boiled water. Make sure you sterilise any funnels, ladles or spoons you’re going to be using too.

  2. Put the fruit into a jam pan or a large, wide, heavy-based saucepan. Add 150ml water and bring to the boil. Put a couple of saucers in the freezer. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 mins or until the fruit is soft.

  3. Tip in the sugar and stir over a very low heat until the sugar has completely dissolved, up to 10 mins. This step is vital – if you don’t dissolve the sugar, the bottom of the pan may catch and burn. Raise the heat, bring to a full rolling boil, then rapidly boil for 10 minutes. Don’t stir until the setting point of 105C is reached. If you don’t have a thermometer, test the jam by spooning a little onto a cold saucer. Wait a few seconds, then push the jam with your fingertip. If it wrinkles, the jam is ready. If not, cook for a few mins more and test again, with another cold saucer. Once you have reached 105C or setting point, stir the jam thoroughly.

  4. Remove from the heat, skim off any excess scum, then stir a knob of butter into the surface (this helps to dissolve any remaining scum). Leave for about 15 mins so the fruit can settle – if you decant the jam too soon, all the fruit will sink to the bottom. Pour into sterilised jars, label and seal.

damson jam recipe bbc

2020-02-01 19:49

Damson Jam plus my tip for quick pitting! Damson plums are naturally sour and full of pectin which makes them perfect for jam making, enjoy this fab recipe!Find all the best Damson Jam Recipes Bbc recipes on Food Network. We’ve got more damson jam recipes bbc dishes, recipes and ideas than you can dream of! damson jam recipe bbc

The damson trees near me have had a fabulous crop this year. Far more than I could deal with, although I did make two batches of Damson jam. This allowed me to

Lacing oatcakes with fragrant caraway seeds adds another dimension to a cheeseboard. Serve with Stilton and damson jam as a final canap at damson jam recipe bbc

This sweet damson jam recipe is simple to make& full of juicy flavour perfect spread on warm bread or as a special Christmas food gift Hugh recipes. Hugh damson recipes winedark jam that is one of the finest things you’ll ever get out of a Use up a damson glut with this seasonal, sweet damson jelly from BBC Good Food damson jam recipe bbc Damson jam has that delicious bitter and sweet taste which adults love. Pictures and a video explain every detail of our damson jam recipe. Looking for a damson recipe to use up a glut of fruit? This late summer fruit is great in many recipes: stirred into a fool, stewed to make jam or Damson or Plum Jam. Damson jam is a big favourite in this house. Thanks for sharing delicious recipe ingredients of Damson jam.

Rating: 4.10 / Views: 128

Damson Jam

Combine the plums, sugar and juice in a medium glass or hard-plastic container; stir to coat evenly. Cover tightly and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days or until the plums have released their juices.

Place a few metal (dinnerware) teaspoons on a flat surface in the freezer (for jam testing).

Fill a large saucepan or stockpot halfway with water and heat over medium heat until the water is barely bubbing. Place 6 half-pint jars in the water. (Filling the jars with water from the saucepan will keep them from floating.) Keep the jars hot until ready for use. (You may also use a dishwasher to wash and heat the jars.)

Place the jar lids and rings in a small saucepan. Cover them with water and heat over medium heat until the water is barely bubbling. Keep the lids hot until you are ready to use them. Do not boil the lids.

Stir the refrigerated plums to dissolve any remaining sugar, then empty the contents of the container into a large, wide nonreactive pot. Add the amaretto or almond extract drop by drop, to taste; the flavor should be subtle, just strong enough to bring out the flavor of the fruit.

Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the jam mixture to a boil, stirring frequently with a large heatproof spatula. Cook for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring frequently, until the jam thickens. Scrape the bottom of the pan often with the spatula, and decrease the heat gradually as the moisture cooks out. During the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking, stir the jam slowly and steadily to keep it from scorching.

To test for doneness, remove the pot from the heat and carefully transfer a sample half-spoonful of jam to one of the spoons that have been frozen. Return the half-filled spoon to the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes, then remove it and carefully feel the underside. The bottom of the spoon should be neither warm nor cold; if it is still warm, return it to the freezer for a moment. Tilt the spoon vertically to see how the jam runs; if it is slow, thick and gloppy, the jam is ready. If it is fairly runny, return the pot to medium-high heat for a few minutes, stirring, and test again as needed.

Turn off the heat and do not stir. Use a metal spoon to skim any foam from the surface of the jam.

Use tongs to remove the jars from the water.

Fill the jars, leaving about 1/4 inch of space at the top. Wipe the rims clean. Screw on the lids until they are just snug and return the jars to the water, making sure they are covered by 1 to 2 inches of water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat; process for 10 minutes.

Use tongs to transfer the jars to a heatproof surface to cool. Store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year. Refrigerate after opening.

  • Wash and wipe the damsons and remove the stalks. Place them in a large wide pan with the water and simmer gently until the fruit is soft. Press the damsons against the sides of the pan as they cook to help the fruit release their stones. Use a slotted spoon to remove the stones from the pan.

  • Simmer the jam until the mixture has reduced by about half.

  • Add the sugar, stirring until it has dissolved. Then bring the jam to the boil and boil rapidly for about 10 mins until the jam sets when tested.

  • Allow to cool for 10 mins then remove the scum with a slotted spoon. Pour into warmed sterilised jars, fill right to the top then cover immediately with waxed discs and cellophane tops or lids.

  • To test for setting point ideally use a sugar thermometer, and boil until the jam reaches 105C. Or place a saucer in the fridge. When the jam has boiled for 5 mins place a teaspoon of jam on the saucer and return to the fridge. After a couple of min, run your finger through the jam, it should wrinkle and feel thicker. If runny, continue boiling until setting point is reached. Be careful not to continue cooking the jam while you are testing as you can easily overcook it, so turn the heat right down.

Today I’m re-posting my Damson Jam which was published in 2013 when I didn’t own or know how to use a professional camera. This recipe has been one of my most popular jams ever since so it was high time I did a re-shoot and gave it the presentation it deserved! I hope you approve.

I have a confession to make, in the 40 years that my parents have lived in their current house I have never taken any notice of their Damson tree. When I was growing up we had a Victoria plum tree and a huge pear tree which dominated the garden but the Damson tree just minded its own business in one of the borders.

The Victoria plum tree and the pear tree have long since languished but the Damson tree has soldiered on. So it took my new love of jam making for me to actually look forward to the harvest of Damsons that I’ve half-heartedly accepted bags of in the past. Yes shocking I know!

So as with all my jams I like to have a good old research of my topic and find the best and most efficient way to make my next jam. It became apparent that this wasn’t a simple jam to make like all the other ones I’d made.

With Damsons you have the sticky issue of the stone to contend with. Hence there were recipes where you either laboriously cut them out at the beginning or you had to wade through hot jam at the end to remove them.

Kirstie Allsopp even suggested counting the plums so that you could be sure to have removed all the stones! Then there were useful tips I found like agitating the plums once cooked with a whisk to help loosen the stones before fishing out.

Another tip I found which would have worked if my plums had all been really ripe, was to remove the stone by gripping the opposite ends of the Damson and squeezing thus releasing the stone. Sadly this only worked on a few of my plums and most of them were not ripe enough for this method.

I came up with what I thought was a stroke of genius! I used my Oxo Goodgrips Cherry/Olive pitter as it is so sturdy and proved perfect for the job. I decided I didn’t fancy fishing for stones at the end of the jam making process with rubber gloves and I’m really glad I opted to remove them beforehand. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t have known about the 3 rotten plums that had looked fine from the outside but were totally brown on the inside which would have spoiled the jam.

The only problem with pitting the Damsons beforehand is that there is a certain amount of plum still stuck to the stone, which would also happen when using a knife or the squeeze technique.

Not wanting to waste any flesh I decided to simmer my stones with a small amount of water and then to pop them in a sieve which seemed to be the best of both worlds and then the liquor could be popped back in to the pan with the simmered Damsons before adding the sugar.

As Damsons are so delightfully full of pectin there was no need to add any other fruit or lemon juice to this recipe, they are the perfect fruit to make jam or jelly with. I had never eaten Damson jam before and it has a unique sharp edge to it which I have enjoyed especially at breakfast time. I made 8 pots of varying sizes but did measure the volume which was about 2.1 ltrs.

I love chatting jam, so if you have any questions or want to tell me how you got on then do fire away in the comment section below!

For more plum jam inspiration you might like:

  • Plum & Apple Jam
  • Mirabelle Plum Jam
  • Greengage Jam and what to do when your jam is too runny!

Why not pin for later!

4.73 from 43 votes A beautiful tart Damson Jam perfect for using up your Autumn windfalls. Course Snack Cuisine British Prep Time 30 minutes Cook Time 35 minutes Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes Servings 1 .1 ltrs Author Camilla Hawkins


  • 1.5 kg Damsons (stoned after weighing)
  • 1.875 kg Granulated Sugar
  • 450 ml Water + 20 ml to simmer with damson stones


  1. Cook the damsons in a preserving pan with the water gently for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. At the same time cook the stones in a separate medium sized pan with 20 mls of water for 20 minutes.
  3. When the stones have cooked put them in a sieve and squeeze with the back of a wooden spoon for a couple of minutes. (There will be clear liquid and a little puree, no need to squeeze until dry).
  4. Add this liquor to the cooked Damsons and then add the sugar.
  5. Heat slowly until all the sugar has dissolved stirring with a wooden spoon.
  6. Bring to the boil slowly and then time a rolling boil for 13 minutes (make sure you stir with a wooden spoon regularly to stop it catching and burning).
  7. Take off the heat and test a teaspoon of jam on a cold plate, leave for a couple of minutes and if it crinkles when your finger is pushed through it it’s ready.
  8. If not boil for 2 more minutes at a time repeating the test.
  9. Once ready pot up into sterilised jars and put on a clean lid. Makes 2.1 ltrs or 8 jars of varied sizes.

Recipe Notes

Put 2 small plates in the freezer before you start.
Sterilise jars by washing or dishwashing, filling with boiling water, emptying and then placing in oven for 20 minutes at 140°C then leave in oven until jam is ready. Wash the lids, sterilise with boiling water and then leave to drain.

Of all the wild fruits that start to become available as summer segues into autumn, damsons are perhaps the easiest to love. This may be because they are not truly wild, but generally escapees from domestic cultivation – plums gone rogue, if you will. A subspecies of Prunus domestica, they are close siblings of garden plums. Yet, having shaken off the shackles of horticulture and made a break for freedom, they’re there for the taking, which is one more point in their favour, as far as I’m concerned.

You will find damsons growing in all kinds of locations, some quite wild – woodland and riverbanks – others much more urban, including allotments and waste ground. Coming across a tree-full is the equivalent of hitting the foraging motherlode. Deeply fond as I am of all kinds of hedgerow berries, damsons seem particularly generous and inviting. These gorgeous plums have skins that are dark as midnight and overlaid by a soft, dusky bloom. When they start to arrive around the end of August, they put themselves forth in profusion, weighing down the branches like great purple gems. As long as you have access to a ladder, they are extremely easy to gather. And as long as you have some sugar in your kitchen, they are immensely rewarding to cook.

It is technically possible to enjoy damsons straight off the tree, but only if you’ve found the right variety growing in a sunny spot so they’re burstingly ripe – and that’s a state that the local bird and wasp populations are unlikely to consent to. If you pick them sooner, eaten raw they will probably overwhelm you with tannic, cheek-hollowing sourness. However, like so many tart fruits, once cooked and sweetened, they surrender the most wonderful, complex, deep flavour.

They make glorious crumbles and cobblers, fabulous ice-creams and sorbets, and a sophisticated, wine-dark jam that is one of the finest things you’ll ever get out of a preserving pan. It’s not hard, either: just simmer 2kg damsons with 800ml water until soft, scoop out the stones with a slotted spoon, add 2.3kg sugar, stir to dissolve, boil for 10 minutes then test for the setting point.

So keep your eyes peeled over the next few weeks and, if you spot some branches laden with purple fruit, make the most of it as soon as you can. It only takes one enthusiast with preserving ambitions to strip a tree, and much disappointment can result from thinking, “Ooh, I’ll come back for those in a couple of days…”

Of course, the surest way to avoid such pitfalls is to grow your own. The trees are pretty hardy and, if you have limited space, can be trained against a sunny fence or wall. Or, for faux wildness, stick them in a hedge (clear away competitive growth around the planting site first). Excellent varieties include the Farleigh damson and the Shropshire prune damson, while King and Merryweather are, when ripe, both sweet enough to eat raw. Even the tame ones taste pretty wild, so I predict you will find them impossible to resist.

Cheesecake with damson sauce

This simple, crustless cheesecake is such a favourite of mine that I sometimes eat it for breakfast. However, bathed in a glorious, rich damson sauce, it makes a fantastic pud. Serves eight.

600g curd cheese, cream cheese or very fresh, mild, rindless goat’s cheese (preferably unsalted)
50g unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tbsp medium oatmeal, semolina or wholemeal flour
100g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of 2 small oranges

For the damson sauce
500g damsons
125g caster sugar

To make the sauce, put the damsons in a pan with 200ml water. Bring to a simmer and cook gently, stirring regularly, for 10-15 minutes, until the fruit has collapsed and the stones have come free. Tip into a sieve and rub through with a wooden spoon to remove the stones and skins. Sweeten the damson purée by whisking in sugar to taste – how much sugar you need will depend on the tartness of the fruit and your personal taste – and leave to cool.

Heat the oven to 170C/335F/gas mark 3 and butter a 20cm springform cake tin. Beat the cheese with a wooden spoon until smooth (if using an unsalted goat’s cheese, add a pinch of salt). Add the melted butter, oatmeal, semolina or flour, sugar, eggs and orange zest, mix well, spoon into the tin and smooth the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until just set.

Serve the cheesecake, cut into wedges, warm or at room temperature, with generous spoonfuls of the luscious, purple sauce ladled over the top.

Duck with damson sauce

Roast duck with damson sauce: A neat twist on the classic Chinese dish. Photograph: Colin Campbell for the Guardian

If you manage to glean only a handful of damsons, this is a terrific use for them. Serves five to six.

1 large (2.2-2.5kg) free-range duck
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g damsons
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
1 pinch dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp soy sauce
2-3 tsp redcurrant or crab apple jelly

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. If the duck is tied up, untruss it and gently pull the legs apart, away from the body – this will help the heat get to the meat. Season the duck skin well with salt and pepper. Put the bird in a roasting tin and roast for about 20 minutes, so the fat starts to run. Baste the bird with any rendered fat or juices, then cover it tightly with foil. Return to the oven and reduce the temperature to 150C/300F/gas mark 2, and cook for two to three hours, until the meat is very tender and easily comes away from the bone.

Put the damsons in a small, ovenproof dish and roast in the oven for the last 30 minutes of the duck’s cooking time, to soften them.

Tip up the bird, pour any fat or juices out of the cavity into the roasting tin, and transfer the duck to a warmed plate to rest. Carefully pour off most of the fat from the roasting tin (save it in the fridge for next time you roast potatoes), leaving the brown juices in the tin.

Set the tin over a low heat, add the ginger, garlic and chilli flakes, and cook, stirring, for two to three minutes. Add the soy sauce and four or five tablespoons of water, followed by the damsons, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for four to five minutes, until the fruit is tender and you can easily crush it with a wooden spoon. Now press this spicy damson compote/gravy through a sieve to remove the damson stones and skins, and the chunks of ginger and garlic. If the sauce is not thick enough for your liking, return it to a clean pan, bring to a boil and simmer for a minute or two to thicken. When it’s the right consistency, whisk in the redcurrant jelly and taste – you may want to add more jelly, or another dash of soy.

To serve, take the meat from the duck – it should be forkably tender – and divide between warmed plates. Spoon the sauce over and around the meat, and serve. Noodles and wilted pak choi are a great accompaniment.

Damson cheese

This traditional fruit “cheese” is a very thick, sliceable preserve that is immensely good served with actual cheese. It keeps for ages. Makes 850-900g.

2kg damsons
Around 750g granulated sugar

Put the damsons in a large preserving pan, add a couple of tablespoons of water and bring slowly to a simmer, stirring as the fruit begins to release its juices. Leave to simmer until completely soft. Tip the contents of the pan into a sieve and rub it through to remove the stones and skin, leaving you with a smooth damson purée.

Measure the purée by volume. For every 500ml, add 350g sugar, and combine in a large, heavy-based pan. Bring to a simmer over a low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then cook gently, stirring regularly so it doesn’t catch, until reduced to a thick purée. It’s ready when you drag the spoon across the bottom of the pan and the base stays clearly visible for a second or two. This can take up to an hour of gentle, popping simmering and stirring.

Pour the “cheese” into very lightly oiled shallow plastic containers and leave to cool and set. It will keep almost indefinitely in the fridge. Serve in slices with bread and cheese, or, if you fancy, cut into cubes, dust lightly with granulated sugar and serve as a petit four.

Damson vodka

This rivals sloe gin for rich, sweet, deliciousness. Make it now for drinking next Christmas (allowing yourself a taster or two on bottling, of course). Makes around 1.5 litres.

1kg damsons, washed
500g sugar
1 litre vodka

Prick each damson several times with a pin, then transfer to a large, clean Kilner jar, demijohn or other suitable glass container with a tight-fitting lid or stopper. Add the sugar, pour in the vodka, seal and leave in a cool place away from direct sunlight. Every week or two, turn the jar on its head, then back again. After six months, strain the liquid through several layers of muslin, then bottle and seal tightly. Leave for at least another six months. It will be even better after two years – or more – provided you have the patience.

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• This article was edited on 20 September 2012. In the original, we failed to include the amount of damsons required to make the sauce for the duck dish. This has been corrected.

Damson Plum Jam


  • Wash and pick over the plums.
  • Combine the plums and the water.
  • Bring to a boil and cook 15 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Allow to cool enough to handle – or completely, if you like – and fish out the pits (I put them through a food mill, and then removed the pits from the remaining pulp).
  • Return the pulp to the rest of the jam once the pits are out.
  • Meanwhile, put the jars into a canning kettle and cover with water to one inch above the tops of the jars.
  • Bring to a boil, boil 10 minutes to sterilize.
  • Return the plums to the jam kettle, and bring them back to the boil. Add the sugar to the plums, stirring to dissolve.
  • Boil to jam stage, about 20 minutes. Test for the gelling point with one of the following methods: Temperature test — Use a jelly or candy thermometer, and boil until mixture reaches the following temperatures at altitudes of: Sea level to 1,000 feet — 104°C/220°F; 1,001 feet to 2,000 feet — 103°C/218°F
  • Sheet or spoon test — Dip a cool metal spoon into the boiling jelly mixture. Raise the spoon out of the steam, about 12 inches above the pan. Turn the spoon so the liquid runs off the side. The jelly is done when the syrup forms two drops that flow together and sheet or hang off the edge of the spoon.
  • I like the”sheet” test.
  • As the jam cooks, remove any pits you may have missed.
  • Remove from the heat and stir and skim 5 minutes.
  • Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal with lids sterilized according to the manufacturers directions.
  • (Generally, boiled for 5 minutes.) Place jars of jam back in boiling water bath and boil for 5 minutes.
  • Let cool, and store when the jars have sealed.

Until recently there was a misguided belief that one should only use second-rate fruit for jam making. You can indeed make jam from less than perfect fruit, but the reality is that poor quality fruit makes poor quality jam. The secret to making really delicious jam is to make it in small quantities from gorgeous fresh fruit.

Before rural electrification, the soft fruit season was a pretty hectic time for those who wanted to have their shelves packed with jams and preserves for the winter. Now that fruit can be frozen at the peak of perfection, there is not such an urgency because you can make jam all year round. However, the best jam is still made from beautiful fresh fruit in season. If you don’t want to spend your whole summer in the kitchen, the most practical approach is to freeze fruit in perfect condition in small, measured quantities so that you can make jam as you need it throughout the year. Jam made from frozen fruit will taste infinitely fresher and more delicious than a six- or seven-month-old jam even if it is made in peak season. Slightly under-ripe fruit makes better jam, because it has a higher acidity. The faster jam is made, the fresher it’ll taste, so for that reason, we always warm the sugar.

In Ireland, the tradition of making and selling jam at farmers’ markets and local fetes is alive and well. Homemade jam is much sought after. If you decide to sell your jam, cost it properly, taking jars, covers, labels and food costs into consideration. A formula used by many is food cost x 3. This would cover all the other items mentioned. If you are producing jam for sale you must contact your local health authority and comply with their regulations.


Pectin is a jelling substance that occurs naturally in many fruits. It is most concentrated in pips, cores and skin. The cell walls of under-ripe fruit contain pectose, an insoluble substance that changes into soluble pectin as the fruit ripens. Slightly under-ripe fruits are best for jellies and jams.

Some fruits are high in pectin, while others have very little. One can compensate for those by mixing low and high pectin fruits such as blackberry and apple.

High-pectin fruits
Crab apples, blackcurrants, gooseberries, plums, redcurrants, cooking apples, cranberries, damsons, quince, oranges, lemons and many plums.

Fruits with quite high pectin
Raspberries, loganberries, boysenberries, tayberries and apricots.

Low-pectin fruits
Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb, elderberries, peaches, sweet cherries, dessert apples, pears, figs and marrow.

Do I need a preserving pan?

Great if you have one, but not essential. Alternatively, choose a low-sided, wide stainless-steel saucepan so that the jam cooks quickly. Avoid aluminium because the acid in the fruit will react with it and give a slightly tinny taste.

Should I use jam sugar?

Jam sugar contains added pectin. I don’t use it because I don’t like the solid texture of the jam that it makes. The only exception I might make is for strawberry jam, which is difficult to set. However, we usually use some redcurrant juice or lemon juice to bring up the acidity, but you could use a small proportion of jam sugar if you like. The end result may be more like bought jam than handmade jam, though. I use ordinary granulated sugar rather than caster sugar for jam making.

How to heat the sugar

Heat the sugar in a stainless-steel bowl in a moderate oven for about 15 minutes. It should feel hot to the touch. Be careful not to leave it in too long or the sugar will begin to melt around the edges of the bowl and will eventually caramelize.

Why heat the sugar?

The faster jam is made, the fresher and more delicious it tastes. If you add cold sugar to jam, it will take longer to return to the boil and will taste less fresh.

When do I add sugar?

Citrus fruit peel, blackcurrants, and gooseberries must be thoroughly softened before sugar is added, as sugar has a hardening on the fruit. If you add the sugar too early, no amount of boiling will soften the rind or skins. You can vary the amount of sugar you use to taste. For example, if the fruit is very sweet, use less sugar.

Should I skim the jam?

Don’t skim the jam constantly while it’s being cooked. Just skim it at the end, to reduce wastage. An old-fashioned tip that was passed onto me by my next-door neighbour Peggy Walsh is that if there’s a bit of scum left after skimming, then drop a tiny lump of butter (about the size of a fingernail) into the jam. It will dissolve the remainder of the scum.

How do I know the jam has reached setting point?

If you want to take the guesswork out of it, buy a jam thermometer (quite an expensive piece of kit); when the thermometer hits 105ºC (220ºF), the jam is set. But we rarely use a sugar thermometer, because I want students to be able to judge when jam is set without any fancy equipment.

Another way to tell when your jam will set is to put a plate in the fridge to chill. When the jam looks as though it’s almost set, take a teaspoonful and put it onto the cold plate. Push the outer edge of the jam puddle into the centre with your index finger. If the jam wrinkles even a little, it will set.

Covering jam jars

When the jam has reached setting point, pour it into sterilised jars and cover immediately. One can still buy packets of jam covers in most shops and supermarkets. These are made up of three elements, a silicone disc of paper, a large round of cellophane and a rubber band. Cover each jar with a silicone disc (slippy side down onto the surface of the jam). Wet one side of the cellophane round, then stretch it over the jar, and secure with a rubber band. If the cellophane disc is not moistened, it will not become taut when the jam gets cold.

Alternatively, use screw-top lids, which should be sterilised in boiling water and dried before use. Later the jars can be covered with doilies, rounds of material or coloured paper. These covers can be added secured with plain or coloured rubber bands, narrow florists ribbon tied into bows or ordinary ribbon with perhaps little dried flowers or herbs.

What can go wrong?

1. Mould on the top
If mould starts to grow on top of jam, I just spoon it off, give it to the hens and continue to eat the rest. Keep the jam in the fridge from then on and use it as soon as possible. When we were little, Mummy would just tell us to stir in the mould and eat it because it was penicillin and good for us – I’m not sure about that but I am alive to tell the tale! Having said that, eating mouldy shop-bought jam is a different matter and certainly not advisable. If you remove jam to a separate dish to serve it in, do not add it back to the main pot afterwards or it will go boozy. Mould grows on top of jam when:
(a) jars are not properly sterilised
(b) the fruit was picked while wet

2. Crystallisation
Sugar crystals appear on top and sometimes through the jam. The jam is safe to eat but will taste very sweet and gritty. Crystallisation is caused when:
(a) too much sugar is added
(b) the sugar is not properly dissolved
(c) the jam is over- or under-boiled

3. Fermentation
When fermentation occurs, the jam will start to bubble and can smell gassy when the lid is removed. Jam that has fermented should not be eaten. Fermentation can occur when:
(a) the jam is undercooked
(b) the fruit was wet when harvested
(c) the jars were not properly cleaned and sterilised

Storing jam

Normally, there is no need to store jams in a fridge. They should be stored in a cool, dry, airy place.


Redcurrant juice

This juice can be frozen for use another time if necessary. Use it to bring up the acidity and pectin level when making jam.

To obtain 450ml (¾ pint) of juice, put 450g (1lb) of redcurrants (they can be fresh or frozen) into a stainless-steel saucepan with 175ml (6fl oz) of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve.

Raspberry, boysenberry, tayberry or loganberry jam

If you’ve never made jam before, this is a good place to start. Raspberry jam is the easiest and quickest of all jams to make, and one of the most delicious. Loganberries, boysenberries or tayberries may be used in this recipe, too. Because it uses equal amounts of sugar and fruit, you don’t necessarily need as much as the recipe calls for. Sometimes when I’m trying to take the mystery out of jam-making for students, I put some scones into the oven, then make jam, and by the time the scones are out of the oven, the jam is made. It’s that easy!

Makes 3 450g (1lb) pots.

900g (2lb) fresh or frozen berries
900g (2lb) white sugar, warmed
(use 110g/4oz less if the fruit is very sweet)

Wash, dry and sterilise the jars in the oven for 15 minutes. Put the berries into a wide, stainless-steel saucepan. Mash them a little and cook for 3–4 minutes over a medium heat until the juice begins to run, then add the warmed sugar and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar is fully dissolved.

Increase the heat, bring to the boil and cook steadily for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently (frozen berries will take 6 minutes).

Test for a set by putting about a teaspoon of jam on a cold plate and leaving it for a few minutes in a cool place. Press the jam with your index finger. If it wrinkles even slightly, it is set. Remove from the heat immediately. Skim and pour into sterilised jam jars. Cover immediately.

Keep the jam in a cool place or put on a shelf in your kitchen so you can feel great every time you look at it! Anyway, it will be so delicious it won’t last long!

• This extract is taken from Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen (Kyle Cathie, £30) with photography by Peter Cassidy

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