Scones with mounds of clotted cream and glossy cherry conserve, to butter and apricot jam sandwiches. Jam is the humble spread that is the highlight of school lunchbox, the ingredient that makes malva pudding so irresistible and the cracker topping that takes charcuterie plates to the next level.
Although a simple concoction of crushed ripe fruit that’s been boiled until its juices are released and sugar is added, thickening the mixture, jam has a surprisingly complex history.
The Romans learned from the Greeks that quinces slowly cooked with honey would “set” when cooled. King Henry VIII was gifted marmalade from Portugal in 1524, and the Scottish who altered the recipe in the 18th century to use more water – making the mixture more liquid.
In a time long before the invention of refrigerators, people relied on pickling, salting and canning to preserve meat and an entire growing season’s worth of fruits and vegetables to see them through icy winters.
Today, jam is a delectable treat, but its main purpose was preservation.
Since honey primarily consists of sugar, which is an excellent preservative as it has very low moisture content that is not conducive to microbial growth and has ideal pH levels to prevent spoilage, many ancient cultures around the world used it as an ingredient to preserve fruit.
However, honey is also only 20% sugar, with the remainder being mostly water, so it isn’t as effective as a preservative as sugar.
It was only when Europeans began producing their own sugar in the New World, instead of importing it, that the true commitment to the production of jam began.
In current times, jam has evolved into something a little more spectacular. With creative combinations that pair warm spices with refreshing herbs, it’s no wonder searches for home-made jam have made an 829% surge on Pinterest.
With people choosing artisanal and farmer’s market products over the mass produced, it’s the perfect way to replace store-bought with wholesome, home-made deliciousness in your pantry.
From scones to sandwiches cut into triangles, jam is the humble spread that is the highlight of school lunches.