CHEAP EATS: Secrets to the perfect jam

IF YOU'VE been wanting to make jam but haven't known where to start, here's your chance.

Choose any fruit that's ripe but still firm and try your own recipes, experiment with flavours, add a bit of whiskey to marmalade, cinnamon and vanilla bean paste to fig jam or rose-hip syrup to berry jam. When making jam, make sure you use all sugar in the recipe, this is needed to sweeten the jam and also as a setting agent. General rule of thumb, use a cup of sugar for every cup of chopped fruit.

To set, jam needs the right balance of acid and pectin. High-acid fruits include oranges, lemon, grapefruit, cherries, green apples, pineapple, raspberries and plums.

If you're using low-acid fruits, such as rhubarb, apricots, peaches and strawberries, you need to add lemon juice. A handy trick to help it set is to cook jam with a muslin bag full of pectin-rich lemon rind and seeds or you can buy pectin from most supermarkets.

For best results, cook jam in small batches - this way the cooking time will be shorter and the fruit will retain its natural colour and flavour. I like to bottle in small jars about half a cup volume.

Making jam at home is a simple process that requires few ingredients, but it is easy to get it wrong.

A few simple rules to follow

1. To set, jam needs pectin from the fruit and some varieties have more than others. For extra pectin, add a muslin pouch of lemon rind and seeds or store bought pectin available in your supermarket.

2. Cook the fruit in a heavy-based pan until it's soft but still holds its shape. This releases pectin and sets the jam.

3. Skim foam from the surface as it cooks and to prevent burning, stir constantly for the last 10 minutes.

4. Ladle the hot jam into clean, dry jars and invert for 2 minutes to seal.

To store Jam

Wash jars and lids in hot, soapy water or dishwasher, then rinse and dry on a rack

Store jam in a cool, dark place away for up to six months. Once opened, store in the fridge for up to six weeks.

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