We returned from holiday with a bag of damsons from my mother-in-law. Carrying these into the kitchen on Sunday morning, O announced that it was the day for his annual jam-making. This year we would be having damson and bramble jelly.
He disappeared to ring the church bells for the morning service and returned with a second bag, full this time with blackberries he’d collected from the hedgerows. I was dispatched to buy some jam-sugar and the kitchen was soon filled with the glorious smells of gently boiling fruits.
So far, so good …
The first casualty was a pair of oven gloves that somehow managed to catch fire on a hot ring (I wasn’t around at the time, but apparently they subsequently smouldered for some time in the bin before being doused with cold water). Never mind … at least the children had a realistic demonstration of kitchen safety!
The boiled fruits were then strung up in a muslin bag over a pan set in the building site attached to the front of our house (it’s actually an extension, but it seems to have settled into being around in our lives in a permanent state of incompletion).
It was at this point that the flash on my camera decided to stop working, so I was unable to take a photo of the deep blood-red stains that dripped onto the concrete floor when the bag was being taken down. I wonder what the builders will think … when they reappear.
Children can be very distracting when you’re in the kitchen. They often appear to be at their hungriest and thirstiest at the exact moment that a sauce needs continuous attention or your hands are covered in sticky dough. Or they surround themselves with their toys on the kitchen floor and play around your legs. Or they drag chairs across the room and stand on them so that they can ‘help’. Apparently, my husband experienced several of these distractions while the jelly mixture was boiling rapidly … which is why the mixture was suddenly reduced by at least half a pint as it escaped from the pan and why the kitchen floor was cleaned that afternoon.
My husband has made jam once a year for some time now. I can remember eating his bramble jelly at least 5 years ago, if not longer. The only batch that didn’t set was his first … and the batch he made this Sunday. What to do with nine jars of fruit compote? On Monday morning, I tipped the whole lot back into the pan and re-boiled it. 106 degrees later, it flaked off the spoon and wrinkled across the saucer. Bingo – jam!
Damson and Bramble Jelly
1.8 kg/4 lb mixture of damsons and blackberries
juice of 2 lemons
450ml/ 3/4 pint water
sugar (see method)
Put the damsons, blackberries and lemon juice in a large pan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently until the fruit is soft (about an hour). Stir occasionally.
Using either a jelly bag or a large muslin square, hang the fruity pulp over a large bowl and leave for up to 12 hours so that the juices drip through.
Discard the remaining pulp and measure the juices. Return these to the preserving pan and add 350g/12 oz of sugar for each 600ml/ 1 pint of juice extract.
Heat and stir gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly until setting point is reached – about 105 degrees C, when the mixture will run off a wooden spoon in flakes and hang from it in triangular gloops.
Remove any scum then pot and cover.
225g/8 oz plain or all-purpose flour
15ml/ 1 rounded tablespoon baking powder
2.5 ml/ 1/2 teaspoon salt
55g/2 oz chilled butter
150ml/ 1/4 pint milk
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C/425 degrees F and set a shelf in the upper third.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub gently into the flour mixture. Work as quickly and as lightly as possible and stop as soon as the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Make a well in the mixture and pour in the milk. Use a palette knife to stir the mixture into a soft dough. Do not over-stir.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Knead very lightly and quickly until it is smooth, then pat into a flat shape no less than 1 inch thick. Use a fluted cutter to stamp rounds. Make sure that you don’t twist the dough as you lift the scones. This recipe makes about 6 or 7 scones.
Place on a floured baking tray and sprinkle the tops with a little extra flour. Bake at the top of the hot oven for about 7 minutes. The scones should be well-risen and brown (but don’t be tempted to open the oven door too soon to check their progress).
Leave to cool or eat hot from the oven with cream and jam.