Amy Middleton- Losing my jam making virginity!
The WI has been long associated with Jam and Jerusalem, and so to make the WI more appealing to a wider demographic the phrase “Not just Jam and Jerusalem” was coined. The thought process being that younger members did not find either of these appealing, and thus demonstrating that there is more to the WI, and indeed, there is.
However, in a recent committee day, it did not take long for conversation to head towards the topic jam when this phrase was mentioned. Ladies shared concerns over shortages of preserving sugar and tips on where to find those precious Seville oranges for marmalade were exchanged. After a short jam themed interlude we were bought back on track by our Federation Chair.
I have been a WI member for 10 years and have long admired those jam making ladies. I added jam making to the list of skills I would like to learn . . . one day . . . in the future. Jam making, for me, sounded scary, technical, like a magical art form, that only the most advanced WI members knew the jam making secrets. The pressure of knowing lots of WI members who annually churn out batches of the stuff intimidated me. I bought myself a preserves book and filed it with my other cookbooks, leaving it to gather dust for a few years.
I am fortunate that I have access to a plum tree in my shared garden. I have been working from home during the pandemic and can see the plum tree from the window where I sit at my table working. For the first three years I have lived here, I have seen no more than 10 plums on the whole tree. This year, however, was different - I watched as the plums grew, and the tree was FULL! So full of fruit to the point where the branches snapped under the weight of the plums. I regularly went outside to check on them, not wanting to miss the day they ripened, not wanting even one of those plums going to waste! I started obsessively googling about picking, washing, prepping and freezing fruit. (I think lockdown mania and plum hysteria had set in.) I had my plan of operation prepped; picking, washing, halving, pitting, flat freezing, and finally bag them up to be stored in the freezer. I was ready.
The first harvest day arrived, and I gleefully skipped out to the garden, armed with a small stool and an empty washing up bowl. I picked about three bowlfuls in total. (My neighbours also picked some!). Operation plum freeze was in full swing. Between meetings, I took screen breaks to prep batches and batches of plums, carefully making space in the freezer for them. I used up food from my freezer, specifically to make space for those plums. They were precious cargo.
It has taken me until Lockdown 3.0 to finally use those plums. Out came the dusty preserves books and I assessed what kit I needed a trip to Dunelm, how exciting! Off I went, to purchase myself a jam thermometer and I have never felt more “WI”. I proudly declared to the lady also looking at the jam making kit, “I am making plum jam!” She smiled politely at me. I skipped back home, new thermometer in hand.
Time to tackle the jam; WI apron- check. Plums- check. Jars- check (I had been hoarding them ready). New thermometer- check. It was time. As the plums cooked, my flat filled with the loveliest aroma, I chose to lightly spice my jam with vanilla, cinnamon and ginger, which added to the fragrance. After an hour or so at the hob, patiently stirring, checking the temperature and testing if I was near setting point, the jam was done! I had successfully made four jars of my very own plum jam. I felt ridiculously proud of myself.
I still had plums left, so feeling inspired and having gained some confidence, I decided to try my hand at making plum ketchup. Out came another bag of plums from the freezer, ketchup bottles were purchased and I set off on another plum based culinary adventure. Another success!
I can now proudly say I am “one of those WI members who makes jams and preserves things” and it is another skill I can add to my WI CV. I like to think if we had badges for skills I would have gained my L1 Plum making badge.
I don’t think any of you serious hard-core competition jam makers have anything to worry about just yet but maybe one day I will be there, in that WI tent, with my jams.
Submitted by Amy Middleton, WI Adviser WFWI - firstname.lastname@example.org