July 31, 2011 at 9:48 am | Posted in Eating and Drinking | Leave a comment
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‘”Do you want to take some of my home-made jam with you?” asked the farmer’s jolly, red -faced wife, when [the Five] paid her for their tea. “Oh yes, rather!” said Dick.’

– Five Have a Wonderful Time

This week I made my first ever batch of jam. It was borne of necessity – a punnet of strawberries got rather squished on a bumpy bicycle ride home – but turned out rather well and I got to eat the fruit of my labours (sorry, couldn’t resist the terrible pun) for breakfast this morning, as you see on the left.

As Lucy H Yates points out in her Country Housewife’s Book (first published in 1934 but reprinted by the lovely Persephone Books), ‘merely to boil fruit and sugar together does not make Jam’ [with a capital ‘J’]. She continues: ‘It is rather necessary to state this somewhat emphatically, as there are people who never reason about things and content themselves with following an old custom, or some haphazard idea of their own and still expect results to turn out all right. Making jam, however, is a scientific process as well as a real test of skill.’

Sadly I am indeed one of the people she refers to and my jam making was a spur of the moment midnight endeavour, not carried out with due care and scientific diligence. Strawberries don’t have much pectin (the stuff that makes jam set) so despite adding some lemon juice my jam is still a little on the runny side. I also added my sugar too early, as, in Yates’ words: ‘It is the fruit that requires cooking not the sugar‘. While I thought it tasted quite good, and feel quite proud of my little pot of jam, I will try to follow Yates’ advice more closely next time round. I have some gooseberries waiting for the jam-making treatment and by all accounts these are much easier to turn into jam (they’re naturally high in pectin). An update will no doubt follow but in the meantime here are some methods, tips and recipes, courtesy of The Country Housewife’s Book.


Make the pan hot and pour in a little water first; then put in the fruit, stirring frequently to keep it from catching, keep stirring at intervals all the time it is cooking until it is reduced to a pulp and seems to be evenly cooked. For stirring purposes use a large wooden spoon, preferably one that is cut across in a slant, as this pushes the pulp about better than a rounded one. Usually it takes about half an hour’s gentle boiling to reduce fruit to the right stage before adding sugar to turn it into jam.


The more rapidly jam or jelly boils the shorter time it will need to remain over the fire; during the time it is boiling attention must not be relaxed and stirring must be constant. Rapid boiling for half an hour will cause less wastage than slow boiling for an hour which so many think to be necessary. With rapid boiling the colour is kept bright; with slow boiling it is darkened.


[…] quantities can be halved or further reduced by dividing them in the same proportion. The amounts here named would not be more than would be gathered from the average country garden at any single picking, but the small-holder need not be deterred from using a recipe by thinking she is under the necessity of keeping exactly to the quantities named. Provided she keeps the same proportions she may reduce the amounts as much as she pleases, and similarly she may increase them if blessed with a very prolific garden or orchard!


The total time required for making fruit into jam or jelly has not been stated in the following Recipes, but only that for boiling after the sugar has been added. The reason for this is that some fruits take longer to cook to a pulp, others quickly break up and become soft, and the jam-maker is the best judge, or will be after she has gained a little experience. Roughly speaking, however, half an hour’s boiling is sufficient to cook the fruit thoroughly well.


Jars for holding the jam or jelly should be made as hot as they can be handled by warming them in the oven (after they have been washed and polished). They should be filled to the brim with boiling preserve and can be covered at once if standing on a tray or table where they can remain until cool enough to handle.


3 lbs small ripe red strawberries;

1 pint red currant juice;

3 lbs sugar.

If red currant juice is not obtainable, use the juice of 3-4 lemons, or a proportion of ‘Certo’ [a pure fruit extract which I see is still available], and rather less sugar.

If desired to keep the berries whole do not boil more than ten minutes from the time the sugar is added.

To prevent the berries rising in the jars let the jam cool down before putting into pots.

Goose-berry juice will do instead of red currant if more convenient to obtain [sadly not, I fear].


4 lbs damsons

4 lbs sugar

1 ½ pints water

Wash the damsons and put them into the preserving pan with the water and cook gently, stirring now and then, until the fruit is well broken down. Remove stones as they rise, but they will not readily come to the surface until the sugar is in and has boiled up. Boil, after adding the sugar, until a little shows signs of setting. Judgement is the best guide, while stirring and clearing of stones should be continuous.


Do not add the sugar until the fruit has been thoroughly cooked […] On attention to this point depends the flavour, the bright colour, and the setting of the preserve. Over-boiling after the sugar has been added is the reason why jam candies on the top, is treacly in texture and dark in colour. Boiling sugar so quickly passes from one stage to another, from a thin syrup to a thick one, and from that to a caramel, that all cooking should be done before any sugar goes into the pan.

[P]revent any check to the boiling such as takes place when sugar is added cold to boiling fruit. After weighing out the amount required according to the weight of fruit used the sugar should be spread on trays and dishes and set in the oven to become quite hot.


The Latin Spring of Mrs Kirrin

March 21, 2010 at 10:56 pm | Posted in Aunt Fanny, Cycling, Eating and Drinking, Learning Stuff | 3 Comments
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It is officially spring. Saturday marked the vernal equinox, the point at which day and night are of equal length. If the Kirrins worked hard at school after Five Go Adventuring Again (when they needed Mr Roland’s help to translate an old Latin parchment), they would know that this derives from Latin: ver=spring, aequi=equal, nox=night. With state education not being what it was seventy years ago, I confess that I did have to look that up in my Oxford English Dictionary. The Mayor of London has something to say about this – not about me personally, but about Latin and the school curriculum [NB ‘curriculum’, from currere, to run, a course. ‘NB’, nota bene=to note well. Ok, I’ll stop].

Continuing the classical theme, Saturday seemed like an appropriate day for a (soggy) cycle ride to Persephone Books on Lamb’s Conduit Street, the vernal equinox being the day on which the mythical Persephone emerges from the Underworld to spend a happy half year above ground before returning to her morbid husband Hades (Incidentally, Enid Blyton’s excellent Tales of Ancient Greece introduced me, as a child, to this terrifying story of abduction, rape and pomegranates).

Persephone Books republishes forgotten and out-of-print works by twentieth century (mainly) women writers. I’ve read about ten of their books so far and have enjoyed every one. Each book is also a thing of beauty, with a dove-grey cover and a carefully chosen patterned endpaper which has some thematic link to the book itself. I decided to indulge my inner Aunt Fanny and bought The Closed Door and Other Stories, a collection of short stories by Dorothy Whipple, a popular writer of the interwar years; something practical – The Country Housewife’s Book, by Lucy H Yates; and Marghanita Laski’s To Bed with Grand Music, which could probably be classed as a ‘racy’ novel for someone of Aunt Fanny’s class and generation.

First published in 1934, The Country Housewife’s Book is full of useful advice on bottling fruits, preserving eggs (brown pickled eggs, egg and lemon curd, egg emulsion and egg wine) and using up gluts of milk (by making clotted cream, cream cheese and junket) [more from this in future posts]. Aunt Fanny would also be able to refer to it when she wanted tips on medicinal herbs or on how to use skimmed milk for ‘cleaning white enamelled furniture, paint, linoleum, or oilcloth’ and for ‘easing sunburn or for removing freckles’.

To Bed with Grand Music, on the other hand, would probably only come out after the children were in bed, or while George was away at school. It was published immediately after the Second World War and tells the story of a woman’s serial unfaithfulness when her husband is posted overseas. There is no bottling of orchard fruit or pickling of eggs here. To Bed instead depicts a world of loose sexual morals, expensive restaurants, black market silk stockings, and discussions of what makes a good mistress. Latin terms probably come into this, but not ones that the Kirrins would be taught at school.

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