Jam on the Barbie..

It occurred to me recently that the fancy-schmancy outdoor kitchens that people like building into their outdoor entertainment areas would be very useful for preserving, because who wants to stand inside all summer stirring pots of jam in a hot kitchen?

I don't have a fancy-schmancy outdoor kitchen, but I do have a picnic table and a barbecue with a gas ring, and that's all I need to do most of my summer preserving outdoors. On the weekend I made jam from the cherry plum tree in my backyard, and I thought I would share the recipe, as practically every old garden in Tasmania features at least one cherry plum tree, and they are fiendishly difficult to cook with as they are mostly stone. But they are so prolific! It seems a terrible waste not to cook with them.

First, sterilize your jam jars in the dishwasher or in the oven (I go for the dishwasher method on hot days, or take the jars outside and pour boiling water into them and let them sit for at least ten minutes or so). I like to pick straight into the kitchen scales, because it easy. Lots of my cooking tips revolve around sheer laziness. I generally preserve in 3kg/6.5lb batches, because that is how much fruit fits in my pan.

So, fruit in pan on gas ring. I add a mug of water, then as it starts cooking, mash the fruit down with a potato masher. Rosy did this for me, and also stirred as the fruit came to a boil. Another advantage of outdoor cooking is the children think it is much more fun to help. Boil the fruit for about ten minutes and the stones come away from the fruit.

Then I add 1.5kg/3.3lbs of sugar, the juice and zest of a lemon, and four teaspoons of vanilla extract. This is half the amount of sugar usually recommended for jam-making, but I kept winding the sugar content back until it stopped 'jelling', then wound it forward a bit, and half the sugar to the weight of the fruit seems to always work for me. I do generally use fruit that is a tad underripe, because unripe fruit contains more pectin, and always add lemon to help it jell. This gives a jam that tastes like fruit, rather than sugar, which of course, is actually the flavour point I am after...

Now I let the jam bubble away merrily for twenty minutes or so, happily heating up the backyard rather than the kitchen, then I start testing for 'done-ness'. I use the wrinkle on the saucer method. Pop two saucers in the freezer, and when you want to test the jam, dollop a teaspoonful onto a saucer, pop the saucer back in the freezer for a minute to cool, then push your finger through the jam. Does it leave a distinct clear line of clean saucer behind it that the jam doesn't seep back into? Is there a distinct bow wave of jam in front of your finger with a hint of a wrinkle to it? Then the jam is done. If not, rinse the saucer and put it back in the freezer. After a few minutes, take the second saucer out (you use two saucers so you always have a cold one handy) and try again. When I test the jam, I don't wait until it is very wrinkly, because I like reasonably sloppy jam. But really, jam is very forgiving. If it is too runny, label it as pancake syrup or ice-cream topping. If it is too hard, label it as fancy-schmancy fruit paste and serve it with cheese and crackers. It is all in the marketing:)

I find about half an hour to forty minutes gives me the consistency I prefer. Now tip your pan of boiling jam Very Carefully through a colander set in another large pan. Very likely you won't get all of it in at once. That's okay, we can do this in batches. Stir the jam vigorously with your wooden spoon to separate jam from plum stones. Tip the stones into the compost, and do another batch. Once all the jam is strained, pour it into the jars.

Remember that all the utensils you use for this must be very, very clean (well, clean before you start mucking about with the jam. After that they will be very, very jammy). Screw the lids on tight and put the jars somewhere the children can't fiddle with them until the lids have popped to form a seal, then label and store and gloat over nine pots of jam that cost pennies to make on a sunny summer's morning in the garden..

Of course, the best thing about cooking jam al fresco is that the clean-up just involves hosing down the table. Try to not to water the dog, who is completely exhausted after a morning of.. well, sleeping.


Unknown said…
You are my kind of cook. Lazy. Though i havent made Jam yet, i cook outside too. I love slow cooked meals but the boys dont like the smell so i plug in the cooker outside in the pergola. I dream of an outdoor kitchen in there but first i need a vent over the BBQ and a few whirly gigs to let out the heat. Sometimes i wish Tilly were a little more sleepy.

Anonymous said…
Boiling your jam down first before adding the sugar also helps reduce the necessary sugar as you are boiling off the liquid first. :) I've never tried it but a friend told me that. We're totally refined sugar free but one day I want to try a jam made with grated apple (adds sweetness and pectin) and honey to sweeten. :)
Anonymous said…
I've never made jam. Helped out once on a farm. The idea of boiling sugar and fruit scares me!

Looks so gorgeous, all that cooking outdoors. Yum!
Tanya Murray said…
Again, eminently practical advice. I like your style Ms Jo x
CJ said…
Brilliant use of those little plums, and I bet the jam is delicious, plum jam is one of my favourites (along with apricot). Excellent tip for cooking it outside as well, although usually around here we're glad of the warmth of the stove. CJ xx
Jo said…
Hey lovely friends, it's so much fun to steal The Girl's laptop and log on with her fiendishly complicated password and find happy little messages from you all.
Cooking in the garden is just too much fun. I wonder what else I can cook out there?
Jessie, I'd like to try jam making with honey too. it's on my list:) Let me know if you try it first.
I was really hoping to read a post on Barbie Dolls mucking about in jars of jelly, but this was good, too! Making jam outside seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do, especially when it comes to clean up. And your jam looks wonderful!

Heather said…
Cooking outdoors in the warm sun is my favorite. I haven't commented in a while because my tablet makes it sooooo difficult for me, but I want you to know I'm still here enjoying all your posts. I hope you enjoyed your holidays. Your jam looks delicious!
Anonymous said…
I wish we had a cherry plum tree in our back yard, but then again, I bet the possums would love it as well ;). A lovely sunny tutorial Jo complete with a sleeping dog. Your job here, is most marvelously and eloquently, done :)
Good one Jo. It takes a woman to think of something like this, it just makes more sense in hot weather. I've taken to being friends with our BBQ too. No preserving though. Your jams look lovely well done. cheers Wendy
Jo said…
Ha, Frances, next time:)
Heather, so glad you are still with us! I love to hear from you:)I have been thinking of you this year as your daughter has left home and gone out into the wide world. Hope all is going well.
Fran, pop over if you want cherry plums. I have approximately one million:)
Wendy I rarely actually use the BBQ to barbecue meat!
Bek said…
Love it! Once I actually have a bbq I'm going to do this. It reminds me of an italian friend of mine who's parents had a second kitchen in the garage, which was where they did their main preserving (I got my passata recipe from them) and catering for massive family events. I would love to have a similar thing one day.
Jo said…
European immigrants often have brilliant, improvised outdoor kitchens for their kitchen-garden adventures. Our Greek neighbours many years ago did an enormous amount of cooking and preserving outside. Passata! That is my next project!
Your adorable puppy looked very helpful.
Jo said…
Dar, my puppy is SO helpful you wouldn't believe it. Especially when he does his trick of standing right behind me so I can't see him when I am stepping backwards with a large pot of hot jam. Sleeping is much more helpful really.
Fiona said…
Seems my comment didn't work yesterday :( Loved this idea of doing jam on the bbq, and great ideas for jam that doesn't quite work. As you say, it's all in the marketing!
Jo said…
Hi Fiona:) Lovely to see you! Isn't it incredibly annoying when the comments don't work? Glad it worked this time:) And yes, I have a jar of very firm jam from last year that I am thinking of relabelling..

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