Backgarden Blackcurrant Jam
Vanessa Kimbell runs The Sourdough School Ltd in Northamptonshire, where she teaches sourdough breadmaking classes. A regular BBC radio journalist, she is a third generation baker of Italian descent and trained in several French bakeries. Her first book, Prepped!, was published in 2011 and her second book, Food for Thought, published in 2015.
"As a baker I am slightly obsessed with the things that go on my bread.For me it has to be the very best butter, the most delicious cheese or the fruitiest, loveliest of jams. There are a few good commercial jams, but homemade is still undoubtedly the best. If you are lucky enough to have space in your garden, then a blackcurrant bush will give you sustainable fruit to make jam with.
The variety called ‘Ebony’ is ideal for small gardens as it takes up little space planted against walls and fences, while ‘Big Ben’ will yield up to 4.5kg of fruit each year from a single bush. You can buy one of these modern heavy cropping plants for the same price as four pots of supermarket jam, and the bushes could live for up to 50 years. That’s 225kg of fruit over a lifetime, which according to my recipe below, will provide you with 750 pots of jam.
This recipe also works with gooseberries, raspberries, redcurrants and blackberries, but I have chosen to use blackcurrants because they make the most fabulously intense jam with a wonderful knobbly texture, which is a delight smothered over hot buttered toast. I prefer a dollop of blackcurrant jam to raspberry in my rice pudding, it makes a wonderful topping for cheesecake, is sublime stirred into porridge with a whisper of cream, and it goes a treat with freshly baked scones.
Making jam is simple and requires minimal effort for maximum results, but I do have one piece of advice, and that is to ensure that your fruit is cooked well before adding the sugar. If you add the sugar too early on in the cooking process it makes the blackcurrants hard".
Makes 5 x 450g jars
- 1.5kg blackcurrants
- 2 star anise
- 100ml cold water
- 1kg jam sugar
- juice of 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/gas 3 and put the clean, empty jars (but not the lids) into the oven. Pop a small saucer in the fridge to chill, so you can test the setting point later.
Put the blackcurrants, star anise and water in a large saucepan, cover and heat gently for about 10–12 minutes. Gently stir occasionally and keep the pan covered. Once the blackcurrants are cooked and the consistency is half juice and half fruit, stir in the sugar and lemon juice.
When the sugar dissolves, bring the jam to the boil for 4–5 minutes on a good bubble. As the jam boils, use a metal spoon to skim off any froth appearing on the top, but take care not to remove too much of the jam with it.
Once the jam reaches setting point it should be viscous enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. To test for setting point, remove the pan from the heat and drop about 1 teaspoon of jam onto the cold saucer from the fridge. Leave it for about 1 minute. If it is ready, then the jam will wrinkle as you run a spoon through the centre. If it doesn’t wrinkle, return the pan to the boil and repeat this process about 2 minutes later. Do take care not to over-boil the jam. This setting point should really take no longer than 7–10 minutes at most to achieve.
Once the jam has reached the setting point, take the pan off the heat, remove the jars from the oven and ladle the jam into them using a jam funnel and a clean, dry tea towel to protect your hand from the incredibly hot bubbling sugary mixture. After a minute or so, taking care not to burn yourself, screw the clean lids on; the heat from the jam will ensure that the lids are sterilised. Label and date the jars (the idea isn’t to have an old, unidentified jar sitting at the back of your cupboard!).