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BCN Challenge 2017: The story of the jam..

Posted by indigodream on 23 June, 2017

18th June 2017

This time last year we were part of an epic convoy to the River Medway in Kent. Because we were moored in the garden of England and as one of my major hobbies is making jams, marmalades, and chutneys, it occurred to me that it might be nice to make a commemorative jar for all the crews taking part. “Medway Medley” was well received and since then I’ve made a few “bespoke” jams for events. Who knows, it may become a new tradition 🙂

Being the 50th anniversary of the BCN Challenge, it seemed natural to make a commemorative jam for the crews, though with 50 boats taking part, it would be a much bigger undertaking 🙂

There were a few challenges:

  • The idea didn’t occur to me until we applied for the event in January – too late for foraged autumn fruit and the event would take place too early for English berries
  • Making 50+ jars of jam is a bit of an effort, though I have managed it before!
  • I would need to make the jam and get it labelled at least a week before the challenge as we’d need the week before to cruise and Indigo Dream is not set up for actually jamming on the canal

But the biggest challenge of all was working out what would a Birmingham preserve look like? How could I capture the essence of the BCN in a preserve?

I started some research on the characteristic foods of Birmingham – this mainly came down to Balti, chips, brawn, pigs trotters, bread and dripping etc etc. Now, I’m very creative but making a jam from a pig’s trotter defeated me utterly.

A good cider for jam-making – it’s pretty good for drinking too 🙂

So I changed tack – I do like to use an alcohol base for my preserves so I started to look at Birmingham brews….

I found that THE Birmingham beer was Ansell’s mild, which used to be brewed in Aston. I was so excited when I read about Ansell’s Mild and was planning an ale-based chutney which would be a preserve to complement your pig’s trotter and represent the savoury end of Birmingham’s cuisine. But sadly, the brewery’s history is both interesting and tragic as the company merged with ever bigger conglomerates who eventually closed the Aston brewery and moved the production of Mild to Burton on Trent. There was outrage in Birmingham as Mild was seen as the brew for the local working man. There was worse to come when Allied brewery discontinued production of mild in 2012 and Birmingham’s signature brew was lost! I frantically searched for supplies of Mild but it has vanished – and really, even if I’d found a barrel, it would be five years old and probably nearer a sherry!

I’d reached a dead-end with Birmingham heritage brews so I looked to the modern city and the advent of microbreweries.

This led me to two options:

  • The Gunmakers Arms and the Two Towers microbrewery which produces a good range of ales – a few of these really appealed as a base for chutney. I though I was on to something, but then I found out that the brewery was closed for refurbishment and might not be open in time. The thing with chutney is that I would need to make it at least six weeks before the BCN Challenge (it needs to mature in the jar)  and the brewery was due to open a couple of weeks after that deadline.
  • Aston Manor brewery – a modern mega-brewery in the heart of Birmingham which specialises in the production of cider. I’ve used cider as a base for jams many times so I turned away from the idea of an ale chutney and went back to jam.

Pretty! The photo doesn’t do justice to the clarity of the jelly 🙂

Aston Manor do a fine range of ciders but I wasn’t sure which would be the best base for a jam; there was also the issue of who stocked it (it is available nationally). I got in touch with the brewery to ask their advice – I needed a cider that was  super-fruity but not too sweet, with a distinct apple flavour; I also told them a little bit about the BCN and the story behind the jam that I was planning to make.

Aston Manor brewery were absolutely brilliant! They got right behind the project and recommended  their “award-winning, premium cider ‘Knights’ , made from 100% local Yarlington Mill, Harry Master’s Jersey, Dabinett and Kingston Black bittersweet apples which give it a real depth of flavour. It would be classed as medium, so not too sweet and is made with no artificial flavourings, colourings or sweeteners”. Then they offered to send me a free case of cider in exchange for a few pots of jam and a recipe – wow!

So now I had a boozy base, but I still didn’t have any fruit. If I’d thought about this project back in Autumn 2016 I could have foraged for ingredients along the BCN – I know from experience that the canal has abundant blackberries and elderberries but I’ve also spotted crab apples, plums, sloes, cherries and there is a quince growing in a most unlikely spot under the motorway not far from Spon Lane top lock! But I’d missed my chance – the seasonality of jamming is a source of great joy and great frustration! I have resolved to forage for these common canalside ingredients and have another go at making a Birmingham signature jam in September.

But in early May I needed a bit of lateral thinking and, on impulse, looked up farm shops in Birmingham. This resulted in a visit to the magnificent Essington Farm Shop near Wolverhampton. Sadly it was too soon for their “pick your own” crop but I was able to buy English strawberries, Essington Farm Rhubarb and a medley of other fresh and frozen fruit which would undoubtedly have come from Spain, but I assuaged my conscience with the idea that my project had at least supported a local business.

The finished product…

Now the real work started – I incentivised myself by drinking one bottle of knights cider (just to gauge the flavour you understand!) and using 6 bottles to marinate a rather large bucket the fruit for 24 hours. I’m not too worried about peeling/coring the fruit at this stage – you’ll see why in a moment!

The following day I boiled the fruit – I have two very large jam kettles so it wasn’t a chore and the fruit was cooked within half an hour. That’s the easy bit – the next step was to pass the cooked fruit through a colander to get rid of the apple skins, cores and biggest seeds. This yielded a seedy pulp which I then passed through a sieve (I’ve got two big sieves) – this gave me a very smooth pulp but still with a surprising number of pips. Now it was decision time – go with a jam full of pips or do the extra work to drip the pulp through muslin to give a clear jelly?

I decide to do both – I allowed the pulp to drip through two layers of muslin – this always tests my patience as the secret to a clear jelly is not to touch the pulp while it drips – any attempt to stir the pulp to speed up the process results in a cloudy jelly. I put my hands behind my back and walked out of the kitchen!

On the third day I was ready to make the preserve. I had enough clear extract to make 80-odd jars of jelly so I got on with that first – it’s the hardest to set but so very pretty! But there was a lot of pulp in the muslin and I didn’t have the heart to throw it away so I used that to make a pippy jam – both have merit and it meant that there would be more than enough jam for the boats to share with their crews and for the BCNS to share with their volunteers. I added the last bottle of cider just before boiling the fruit – I didn’t want there to be any alcohol in the jam but I did want that last bit of cider flavour.

An event worthy of its own jam 🙂

After three days of preparation, I had just shy of 150 small jars of BCN jam, but the work wasn’t over – all the jars needed capping while hot and each jar was thoroughly washed and dried – you can guarantee that there will always be an errant blob on the outside, even though I use a potting funnel! Finally I labelled the jars – I had already designed and printed the jar labels, and, from another jammy project, had gold jar top labels which were perfect for a golden anniversary preserve.

I really enjoyed making the jam, but just in case things went pear-shaped in the making I hadn’t told anyone that it was coming! I delivered 130-odd jars to the BCNS a couple of days before the challenge and they decided that each boat could have two jars each at the finish line with their Challenge plaque. I was chuffed by the boater’s reaction to this little gift – it seems that they enjoyed the gesture as well as the flavour 🙂

I also delivered 10 jars to the Aston Manor brewery as promised – it was fun to go into the brewery’s reception (it is a vast complex) where I found that my jam had been a topic for discussion and intrigue. They were quite excited by the jars and I hope that the finished product hit the spot for them. Sending them an “exact” recipe was a challenge, partly because I’m in the “chuck it in the pan and see what happens” school of jamming and I also anticipated that no-one would actually want the actual quantities needed to make 150 pots of jam! I have scaled down the recipe – try it for yourselves and make it better…..

Jammin’ on the BCN – a celebration jam for the 2017 BCN Marathon Challenge

2 Bramley Cooking Apples

1 x 500g punnet of strawberries

1 x 250g punnet of blackberries (preferably wild berries from the hedgerows)

1 x 250g punnet of raspberries

1 x handful of rhubarb stems

Handful of redcurrants

Handful of blackcurrants

Handful of red cherries

Note: if you can’t get fresh berries and currants then just buy a frozen “summer fruit” mix from your local farm shop or supermarket.

1 – 2 bottle of Aston Manor Knights Malvern Gold Cider

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Jam Sugar (see below for quantity)

48 Hours in advance:

  • Wash the fruit
  • Place the berries in a large bowl or bucket
  • Cut the rhubarb into 1″ chunks – no need to peel – add to the berries
  • Cut the apples into small chunks and add to the berries – no need to remove the core/skin
  • Pour the cider over until the fruit is just covered
  • Leave to marinate overnight
    • NOTE: the juice from the fruit will add to the volume of liquid in the bucket so make sure you allow enough room!

24 hours in advance:

  • Place the fruit and the cider in a large jam saucepan (these are large and wide-mouthed)
  • Bring to the boil and simmer gently until the fruit is soft (15 – 20 minutes)
  • Once the fruit is soft turn off the heat
  • Now pass the fruit through a colander – this will remove the skins/cores that you really don’t want in a jam – this will leave you with a thick extract full of pips!
  • Then you have three options:
    • For a thick jam with LOTS of pips just use the extract as it is (not recommended)
    • For a thick jam with a few pips, press the extract through a sieve (recommended)
    • For a beautiful clear jelly, allow the juice from the extract to drip through a muslin jelly bag – this will take several hours; preferably overnight. This is  well worth the effort as you can make the clear juice into a jelly and make a jam with the pulp

On the day:

  • Measure the volume of the fruit extract (pippy pulp, smooth pulp or clear juice) that you are using to make your preserve
  • You will need enough jars to hold roughly TWICE the volume of your fruit extract – see below how to sterilise your jars)
  • Allow 1.5 pounds of jam sugar per pint of fruit extract (you can try 1.25 pounds and add the extra if your jam doesn’t set)
  • Put the fruit extract into a clean jam saucepan and add the lemon juice – stir well
  • Warm the extract and just before it boils add the calculated amount of sugar – stir the pot well until the sugar is dissolved
  • Once the sugar has dissolved completely, turn the heat up and bring the preserve to a rolling boil – if you have a jam thermometer you are aiming for a temperature of 105 degrees centigrade.
  • Turn the heat down and simmer for no more than 5 minutes; turn the heat off and test for a set (place a spoonful of preserve on a plate and put it in the fridge to cool – once it’s cold, run your finger over the surface – it will wrinkle if you have a set. Jellies may have a softer set than a pulpy jam.
    • If you don’t have a set then bring the jam to the boil and simmer for another 15 minutes, test for set.
      • If that doesn’t work then add another tablespoonful of lemon juice and bring to the boil again.
        • If that doesn’t work then you could add a bottle of pectin extract e.g. Certo and just bring to the boil
          • If all that doesn’t achieve a set, pot it up and call it a syrup – it will be delicious on ice cream, porridge or Eton Mess
  • Pot your jam while hot into warm sterilised jars – fill your jars to the brim
  • Put a top on the jar – either the lid that came with the jar (well washed in very hot water) or a traditional cellophane cover held in place with an elastic band
  • Allow the jars to cool; wash any spillage from the sides, label and enjoy 🙂

Sterilising your jars:

  • Make sure that your jars are clean and don’t have any chips or cracks; rinse well with hot water before use. It is fine to re-use jars but do not use pickle or chutney jars – you can never remove the smell of vinegar!
  • Put the jars on a baking tray and place in a cold oven
  • Turn the oven on – set it to 120 degrees centigrade
  • Once the jars have reached 120 degrees (usually around 20 minutes) then remove them from the oven and allow them to cool for a few minutes before you pot your jam.

I take NO responsibility for the results of jam made to this recipe – but if you follow the proportion of jam sugar to fruit then they should get a good result 🙂

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