I haven’t made jam for a long time. I keep meaning to fetch some damsons out of the freezer, but I always find that something else has jogged its way to the top of my to-do list. This morning though, our broadband connection was down. The horror! It’s only when you don’t have the internet that you realise how much you use it. I decided to change my plans and I remembered that when I had gone to feed the chickens yesterday that I had thought about the elderflowers being ready. I was chatting at the weekend about elderflower champagne. I decided it was now or never.
I went out in my sandals (why do I always do that?) to forage. The tree by the chickens wasn’t very fruitful. I managed a couple of sprigs, but realised that this is probably the tree that the jackdaws sit in waiting for their opportunity to do their own foraging in the chicken corn. There was just too much bird poo. So I ended up half way down a steep, fairly muddy bank in my sandals precariously reaching for the best blooms.
You have to take great care when picking elderflowers. Not only do I suggest your wellies or a pair of sturdy shoes, but that you very gently grasp the bloom and snip carefully. Carry said bloom with care to the waiting bowl and gently lay it in there. When you are ready to use them do a thorough examination for insects and carefully lift any off. Do not be tempted to give the blooms a shake. The sweet scent of the elderflower is captured in its pollen and it is this that you want in your jam/cordial/champagne/ vinegar. No matter how careful you are when you pick them a cloud of pollen will still be released, reminding you to be even more careful with the next snip, whether you are threatened with tipping yourself down that steep bank or not.
I bought my elderflower heads inside and wondered what I should do with them. I have made elderflower cordial before and I love it, but I fancied something a bit different. I fancied a scented vinegar, so I started with that (recipe to follow in another blog post) and then I thought about the gooseberries that Mr OC and I had been admiring in our garden on Saturday. Mr OC had mentioned gooseberry jam. I took that as a hint. Out I went, still in sandals, to tackle the gooseberries. Those little bushes really don’t want you to take their fruit. Several exclamations later I emerged with just over 1 kilo of gooseberries and my hands prickled and thorn ridden. There are plenty left to ripen further for a fool or an ice-cream. Perhaps gloves might be an idea next time.
The resulting jam is heavenly. It has a sherbet fizz to it, that makes your lips pucker, ever so slightly, then the heady scent of elderflower and the sweet tang of gooseberries. If someone were ever to ask me what the colour green tastes like I would say this jam, after wondering whether they required help. The jam itself has a rose hue to it that just makes you feel happy. I am glad the internet was broken this morning.
Makes 5-6 random sized but about 300-400g jars
1kg gooseberries, topped and tailed and washed
6-8 elderflower heads, carefully picked and carefully inspected for insects
500ml of water
1 kg white sugar
Place the topped and tailed gooseberries in a jam pan or large saucepan, pour over 500ml water and place the elderflower heads on the top. Bring the water to a gentle simmer and cook until the gooseberries are soft but still whole. Remove the elderflower heads (which will have gone brown in the heat). Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring the jam to a rolling boil and boil until the jam is set. To test, place a couple of saucers in the freezer to get really cold. After nearly ten minutes of boiling spoon a little of the jam onto a cold saucer and leave for a minute. Push the tip of your finger through and if the jam wrinkles it is set, if not leave to boil for a few minutes more. My jam took about 15-18 minutes today and it is very softly set, which is the way I prefer it. Leave the jam to cool in the pan for 10 minutes and then spoon into warm sterile jars and seal.
To sterilise my jars, I wash them really well in soapy hot water, rinse really well in clean water. Place on a baking tray and place in a low oven for twenty minutes. I then fill them as soon as they come out of the oven.