For good jam and jelly making there’s nothing that beats the traditional preserving pan. Jam and jelly mixtures froth up when sugar is added; the sloping sides and sheer size of a preserving pan allow for this. A nut of butter added to a boiling mixture helps to reduce frothing, but it’s very important to boil fast to obtain a set in the shortest possible time. A big pan lets you do this without any risk of spilling over stainless steel or aluminium is best. You can use it for marmalade, sweet pickles and acid chutneys as well.
There are two stages in the making of jams and jellies and it’s important to observe-both carefully. First a gentle simmer in a measured quantity of water breaks down fruit and extracts the natural setting agent called pectin. With jellies you really must crush the fruit with the back of a wooden spoon. I sometimes use a potato masher to crush fruits like quinces. The initial cooking tenderizes the fruit; sugar added too soon will make tough skinned fruits chewy. Next the fruit is boiled rapidly to obtain a set quickly, which will give your preserve the best flavour and brightest colour. Very acid fruits will reach setting point in about 10 minutes, hut most mixtures take 15-20 minutes. I set my kitchen timer to observe this meticulously and, at the same time, have a few saucers chilled in the refrigerator to cool a test sample down as quickly as possible.
Testing for a set is simply cooling a small sample of the boiled fruit mixture to see if it will set. A sugar boiling thermometer is a help and tells you that the jam is ready when the temperature reads 220°F (105°C), but the saucer test is the most reassuring. Allow a little jam, marmalade or jelly to drip on the chilled saucer and cool for a few minutes. Then push the drop with your finger and if setting point has been reached, the jam will wrinkle. While waiting for the test sample to cool be sure to have the pan off the heat it will do no harm at all. If the test is negative you can return the pan to the heat and boil briskly for a few more minutes before testing again.