Caught in a jam: getting the most out of Scotland's fruit
- Jo Ewart Mackenzie
- 1 May 2009
Jo Ewart Mackenzie takes a look at the art of storing and preserving our glorious gluts of fruit.
For almost six months of the year, Scotland boasts a veritable bounty of fabulous, fresh seasonal fruits. From the delectable soft fruits of summer through to late variety apples and pears, the exciting and colourful feast of fruit available from June through November can keep us going year-round if properly stored and preserved.
The practice of storing apples, in particular, has been around since the first century AD with the same principles proving as pertinent today as they were back then. Using only unblemished fruits – one bad apple really can spoil the barrel – arranged in well ventilated boxes or crates so the apples, or indeed pears, are not touching each other (you can wrap individual fruits in tissue) and store in a cool, dry and dark place. Apples and pears stored in this way can last for months.
Another time honoured way of preserving windfall fruits is to make them into tangy chutneys to accompany thickly carved ham and ripe farmhouse cheeses. Peeled, cored and diced apples, or hard pears, combined with currants, peel, malt vinegar and brown sugar, scented with snapped cinnamon sticks and aromatic cloves simmered until sticky and golden, makes a full-bodied chutney, which will easily keep for a year or more in a cool, dry place. Or try domestic doyenne Elizabeth Beeton’s recipe for peeled and cored apple quarters preserved in a simple sugar syrup infused with ginger.
Pre-dating the esteemed Mrs Beeton, as far back as the 17th century, fruit and sugar preserves, or conserves, were being made with gluts of soft fruits. More a fruit paste than a preserve as we know it, thickly pureed fruits mixed with sugar were poured into long moulds then sliced and served with cream for dessert, or with cheese, much like today’s quince paste. It wasn’t until sugar became more affordable towards the end of the 18th century that looser ‘jams’ were developed.
Based on traditional principles and recipes, Katrina Ashford of Rose Cottage Country Kitchen in Nairn started her 21st century preserves business with hand-made pots of old fashioned strawberry, gooseberry and apricot preserves. She now has 60 products in her range, which she sells at farmers’ markets and through local farm shops.
‘Not all products are available at the same time,’ she says. ‘It depends on the harvest – I have no plum jam this year as the crop has been poor and I only make rhubarb and elderflower jam in the summer because elderflowers don’t freeze well.’
Ashford freezes soft fruits such as raspberries and strawberries – gooseberries, brambles, black and redcurrants harvested on dry, sunny days all freeze successfully too – so she can produce jams year round. Using local produce in season, she sticks to age-old Scottish methods: preserves with a high fruit content hand-made in small, five pound batches in a traditional open pan. Some of her recipes date back to her granny’s time, ‘using the traditional 50:50 fruit to sugar ratio with no added sweeteners or water’.
Any tips? ‘Patience! If your jam isn’t setting, add a lemon per pound of fruit and leave it to sit for 15 minutes after boiling. You develop a sense for it.’
You can find out more about Scottish producers of jams and chutneys at: