Jam making has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My Mum made all her own jam and marmalade. When I was a child, fruit picking expeditions were a regular part of life. My parents knew where all the wild raspberries and strawberries grew and, later in the year, plums and blackberries and crab apples for jelly. We always made a day of it, with a picnic, although my brother and I rarely ate much of the picnic as we had been gorging on fruit. I was never keen on the blackberry picking - they were vicious and fought back, and usually I came off worse! Plus, your fingers and nails were purple for days afterwards.
When my children were young, we only had rhubarb in the garden but we used to go to a local fruit farm to pick raspberries and straberries for jam. I remember one occasion when my son ate enough strawberries to make himself sick. For a heart-stopping moment I thought he was vomiting blood!
When Gerry and I moved to the Forest of Dean, we had rhubarb, gooseberries and blackberries in the garden and a neighbour used to let us pick as many plums as we wanted, so the jam making continued. Here in France, we have cherries, raspberries, strawberries, rhubarb, blackcurrants, goosberries, apples, pears and plums, so we have a fantastic array of jams to spread on our baguette in the mornings.
I've always loved the ritual of jam making - preparing and weighing the fruit and sugar, the constant stirring to make sure the jam doesn't stick and burn (because once jam has burned to the bottom of the pan, you can't get rid of the taste), warming the jars in the oven, putting a little jam on a cold saucer to see if it wrinkles to show the jam has reached setting point. This latter is absolutely crucial, because if you take the jam off the heat too soon you could drink it through a straw, leave it a minute too late and you could dance on it! Nowadays, I use a jam thermometer - not so much fun but much more reliable.
I love pouring the jam into the warm jars and immediately putting a wax circle on top. Then, when the jam is cool, writing out the labels and sticking one on each jar before screwing on the lids and putting them in my jam cupboard. Yes, I really do have a jam cupboard and it gives me enormous satisfaction to see my shelves full of jam. Perhaps I need to get out more? Today I have made 5lbs of strawberry and 5lbs of apple and strawberry to add to my shelves.
I have a wonderful old brass pan for jam making. It is so heavy I can barely lift it empty!