Life after Life 4: Raspberry and Redcurrant Jam

Ursula remembered…the kitchen at Fox Corner on Mrs Glover’s baking days – the big brown ‘health’ loaves that Sylvie insisted on, but also the sponges and tarts and buns. She imagined eating a slice of the warm brown bread, thickly buttered, with the jam made from the raspberries and redcurrants at Fox Corner. (April 1945, page 439)

Until last year I had never made jam. I assumed it was a terribly complicated process involving thermometers and sterilising equipment – and the effort would not be worth the result.

How wrong I was.Forced to try my hand at making strawberry jam in preparation for a Baking week I was leading at school with 15 keen students, I was delighted to discover how straightforward – and almost foolproof – the whole jam-making process is.

Not only is jam-making simple, it is also incredibly satisfying. It has the ‘magical’ element that makes me like baking so much: a few ingredients are combined and something new and different is created. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been making jam for long, but I stiil feel excited when the fruit and sugar mixture has cooled down and its newfound status as jam can be confirmed by tipping up the jar and seeing little – if any – movement.

Throughout Life After Life jam makes repeated appearances, summoning up a pre-supermarket world of seasonal home-grown and home-made produce. In June 1915 the family eat jam roly-poly, ‘the jam from the summer’s raspberries’, and 3 years later, in June 1918, Ursula and her siblings go and visit Mrs Dodds, mother of their housemaid Bridget’s fiance, and take her raspberry jam that Sylvie – the children’s mother – has spent the previous day making with the family’s cook, Mrs Glover. And, as I wrote in my last post – see when Ursula goes to visit her father’s old nanny in Pinner, she is given ‘slices of milk fadge spread with blackberry jelly’ by Nanny Mills’ kind sister.

The raspberry and redcurrant jam that has inspired this post appears in the life Ursula leads when she falls in love with the German Jurgen, marries him, has a daughter and ends up stuck in Germany following the outbreak of war – see . Jurgen is killed in an American war raid in 1944 and in 1945 Ursula and Frieda are leading a poverty-stricken miserable existence in Berlin. There is barely any food – one day Ursula queues for three hours for bread and the loaf she eventually buys ‘seemed to contain no actual flour, although it was hard to say what it did contain – cement dust and plaster?’ The inedible loaf triggers Ursula’s memories of bread from her childhood, both that made in the village bakery, Rogerson’s, and by the family’s cook, Mrs Glover – spread ‘with the jam made from the raspberries and redcurrants at Fox Corner’.

I was first introduced to raspberry and redcurrant jam by my ever-generous landlady who has given me jars of her home-made version over the years. So as soon as I read the reference to it in Life After Life I knew I had to try my hand at it.

The advantage with using redcurrants in jam is that, because they are a high-pectin fruit (pectin being the agent that allows jams and jellies to set) you can use ordinary sugar in the recipe (if you are making jam with low pectin fruits like strawberries and raspberries you need to use sugar with added pectin otherwise your jam will never set). Having tried it a couple of times I decided I liked it made in the proportions below, but you can experiment with the ratio of the fruits and the quanitity of sugar – many recipes I found used the same amount of sugar as fruit in total, but that produces too sweet a jam for my taste.

RASPBERRY AND REDCURRANT JAM (makes enough for 1-2 jars)
175g redcurrants
3 tablespoons water
350g raspberries
350g granulated sugar

Raspberries and redcurrants

1 large or 2 medium-sized old jam jars
One large heavy-based saucepan
One wooden spoon
One saucer
One sieve

Place the saucer in the freezer (you will need it to test the jam later).
Sterilise the jam jars: I do this by putting the jars and their lids in a clean and empty sink, with the plug in, and pouring one kettle-full of boiling water over them. Make sure you fill the jars with the boiling water and that the lids are covered too. Leave in the sink with the plug in whilst you make the jam.
Remove the redcurrants from the stalks and place in the saucepan with 2 tablespoonfuls of water. Place the lid on the saucepan, bring the mixture to the boil and cook for a few minutes until the redcurrants have burst.
Pass the redcurrant mixture through a sieve until you have a smooth puree. Discard the skins and seeds.
Put the redcurrant puree back in the saucepan with the raspberries, sugar and one tablespoon water. Bring it up to the boil, stirring all the time until the sugar has dissolved. Cook the mixture for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, and then test it to see if the setting point has been reached. This is where the saucer comes in! Turn off the heat and take the saucer out of the freezer. Place a teaspoonful of the fruit mixture on it and allow it to cool. Push the mixture with your little finger; if it wrinkles and looks ‘jam-like’ it is ready. If not, place the saucer back in the freezer and continue cooking the fruit mixture for another 5 minutes – and then ‘test again’. And so on. After 10 minutes of cooking – if it still not set – test more frequently than every 5 minutes – I suggest every 3 minutes – otherwise you may end up with something resembling raspberry and redcurrant toffee rather than jam!
When the mixture has reached setting point, leave it to cool for a bit in the saucepan and then transfer to the sterilised jar/s for the final cooling. If you are not eating the jam straightaway, you might like to seal the jar with a wax disc – these are available in cookery shops and department stores.

Raspberry and redcurrant jam

2 thoughts on “Life after Life 4: Raspberry and Redcurrant Jam”

  1. If you are bitten by the jamming bug, the damsons may soon be ripe. But stoning (or de-stoning?) damsons is quite a task! And then there’s chutney too….

    1. I may well give damson jam a go – provided there are enough damsons left over once I’ve made this year’s batch of damson cheese!

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