I made preserves for the first time, and this is what I learned

Ella Walker has never before made any kind of jam or pickle, and so she took the advice of Pam Corbin – queen of preserves.

My Granny’s crab apple jelly was the single-most delicious thing. After she died, we hoarded jars of the stuff, not wanting to run out, spreading it thinner and thinner on toast until even the bits caught in the shoulders of the glass had vanished upon tongues.

Shop-bought stuff is never quite the same. My boyfriend’s mum’s marmalade is far superior to any other marmalade I’ve ever encountered at a breakfast buffet, and my boyfriend’s chilli jam (chillies grown on our windowsill – yes, we’re smug) is so good, I’ve taken to hiding jars in our top cupboard, so when people ask for another instalment I can say we’ve run out, and keep the rest to myself.

Pam Corbin (Mark Diacono/PA)
Pam Corbin (Mark Diacono/PA)

However, pickles (oh so chic in culinary circles these days) and preserves have not historically been part of my own kitchen repertoire – until now. Pam Corbin – famed for her River Cottage connections and panache with preserves – has just shared her latest recipe collection of things to be jarred, stored and scoffed: Pam The Jam.

And so, I thought, with a compendium to pick from, surely there’ll be a pickle or jam out there I can get a handle on?

Ignoring Pam’s suggestion to use a water bath to sterilise my jars (a motley collection, formerly bearers of French apricot jam, Carluccio’s porcini pasta sauce, and a supermarket own brand cranberry jelly), I went old-school and gave them a good soap in hot water, followed by 15 minutes in a low oven (120 degrees fan). They couldn’t have looked any shinier or bacteria-free had they been in an industrial steriliser.

Wafer thin ginger slices (Ella Walker/PA)
Wafer thin ginger slices (Ella Walker/PA)

First up, I went savoury (and, it has to be said, for the most simple of my two challenges): Sushi ginger.

Having just returned from a trip to Japan, where every conceivable meal appears to come with a small dish for soy sauce, a powerful smidgen of wasabi, and a bowl of zingy, fragrant, pearlescent pickled ginger, this seemed like a pickle that would get considerable usage in my now Japanese-cuisine-obsessed household.

Unable to track down the pink-tipped, very young ginger found in Asian supermarkets (sorry Pam), I plumped for your standard bronze fare found everywhere (Pam says it’s spicier but just as good, as long as it’s not gone dry and stringy).

Ella's sushi ginger (Ella Walker/PA)
Ella’s sushi ginger (Ella Walker/PA)

And so commenced 30 minutes of hand cramps peeling said ginger with a teaspoon – fiddly, not therapeutic – but I did eventually get into a groove with it, taking breaks between knobbly root joints to slice the most recently skinned one into wafer thin slices (not to self: Buy a mandolin). The easiest bit by far came next, mixing my golden wafers with salt and leaving them to get on with things for a couple of hours under a sheet of baking paper and a plate, to draw out excess moisture.

Suitably rested, following a rinse in cold water and a gentle pat down with a tea towel (forgot to buy kitchen paper, but it did the job), my ginger went for a simmer in a tart, nose-tickling mixture of water, sugar and rice wine vinegar, before being jarred up. I felt very professional tipping the jars upside down for a minute or so, to settle and seal. I think Pam would be proud.

Sushi ginger verdict: Absolute doddle to put together, and I’ll be chucking pickled ginger on absolutely everything from now on.

Squeezed lemons in a sink (Ella Walker/PA)
Lemon massacre (Ella Walker/PA)

Second, it was my attempt at sweet. On writing, my homegrown raspberries were not sufficiently bounteous to attempt raspberry jam (give me a couple more months), so lemon and honey curd it had to be. There’s just something so luxurious about lemon curd. And I’m a lemon drizzle fiend – my citrus cake skills will know no bounds if I can manage to whip up curd too.

I felt like quite the lemon murderer by the end though, getting through seven of the sunshine babies before the requisite 250ml juice was squished out of them (OK, I slightly failed and only managed 245ml – but I ran out of lemons!).

Folding the juice and zest into a bath of sugar and butter, drizzled with honey and melted over a bain-marie, everything was quite wholesome and going to plan…

Ella with her lemon and honey curd (Ella Walker/PA)
Ella with her lemon and honey curd (Ella Walker/PA)

Until it took significantly longer than the nine to 10 minutes specified for the mixture to thicken and get up to 78 degrees, but it might have been my set-up – my heatproof bowl was not all that snug with the pan.

So I went rogue, popped a lid on, whacked up the heat and ignored the buzzer until it reached the desired glassiness and temperature (forgive me, Pam, it was way over 20 minutes in the end). I can barely get the yellow gloop poured into jars before I’m at it with a spoon. It’s that good.

Lemon and honey curd verdict: The kitchen smelt quite wonderful, and aside from a thermometer being pretty necessary, similarly straightforward to achieve. Now very tempted to attempt a lemon meringue pie…

Pam The Jam: The Book Of Preserves by Pam Corbin, photography by Mark Diacono, is published by Bloomsbury, priced £20. Available July 11.