Stop Brussels and save our home-made jam
Eat your heart out, Nigella. Look to your laurels, Jamie. I am about to reveal exclusively to readers of this newspaper the secret of making impeccable damson jam.
After two seasons of experiment, in which I have burned saucepans, smashed Moulinexes and splattered so much jam over the kitchen that it resembled a scene from Goodfellas, I have cracked the great damson stone problem. I now present my findings to the Royal Society of Telegraph Jam-Makers with the sense of exhaustion and pride that Rutherford must have felt after splitting the atom.
I believe the recipe to be idiot-proof. The result is sensational – sweet and yet tart, but not wince-makingly tart, and once I have explained it, you will want immediately to join the great jam-making community. You will want to rise up and protect the interests of British jam-makers – and indeed small businesses of all kinds – against the insanity of some EU regulations; and when you hear what I mean, your blood will boil hotter than the jam itself.
When I say “you”, of course, I mean you too, male readers. Before you drift away to the sports pages, let us be clear that, in 2007, jam-making is an entirely unisex and gender-neutral activity. If women can go to work and suffer the curse of ambition, then we men are entitled to the restful consolations of jam-making.
That is why I now urge everyone – men, women, children – to go out now into the autumnal hedgerows and copses, and there you will still find fruit, even in the middle of October. You will find millions of unharvested blackberries, left on the brambles because the British are now too spoilt to pick them. Here and there, if you are really lucky, you will find the damson, the fruit of the gods, a tiny plum with a denim-blue bloom.
I reckon that with nimble fingers and wristwork you can collect a thousand damsons in an hour, and soon your carrier bags will be full. I wouldn’t bother to wash them. Just whip the stalks off and bung them in the biggest series of pans you can find. You will recall the jam-making controversy of Tolstoy, where Kitty boils up the fruit on its own, and Agafea Mihailovna uses water as well.
Yes? Well, I am with Agafea. Put in some water (not much), and then boil away. You can read while you stir, and after a while something incredible happens. The flesh of the raw damson is greeny-yellow, but when it reaches boiling point, an alchemy takes place, and as if from nowhere a rich red bursts through, and as a heavenly smell comes off the pots, the stuff goes redder and redder until it’s like a vat of arterial gore.
Just as you are congratulating yourself on this miracle, you see the problem. It’s the pips, the stones. They are beginning to float to the surface, and you soon realise there is no simple way of sorting them out. You can’t hope to spoon them all off.
Mrs Beeton says you should take them out first, and she must have been mad. Have you tried to stone a damson? It’s like doing heart surgery with an axe. I once met a woman who said she had a damson stone extractor at home, and when I asked her to draw it on a napkin she became all coy, rather like those two scientists called Fleischman and Pons, when they were asked to explain exactly how they had achieved cold fusion on the kitchen table top.
And yet you must get the stones out, because you can’t hope to offer your public jam if it’s going to crack their teeth or choke them to death. But how? How to remove a thousand yellow pebbles from the bubbling red gunk? One false move and you risk pouring it all over your foot, and as the fiery gouts shoot across the room you realise that damson jam was probably second only to boiling pitch as a means of defending mediaeval castles.
That is why I am now happy to reveal my breakthrough. You need another big pot, and a colander. Yup, just ladle the mulch into the colander, bit by bit, and mash it all around with the ladle – and presto! Jam goes through hole. Stones stay in colander. Yippee.
After that it is a doddle. Whack the stone-less gloop back on the stove, turn up the heat, shove in a great mound of sugar so that it protrudes through the lava like a white volcano, and then boil and boil until it starts to coagulate. By the time you have finished you will feel a quite intense and ridiculous sense of satisfaction. You will have row on row of coffee pots and gherkin jars full of fantastic jam, and suddenly you feel your ambition soaring. Why just give it away? Why not sell it? And at present there is nothing to stop you.
You can sell it to raise money for the church roof. You can sell it at the side of the road, and if all else fails I can think of worse careers. And yet there is a cloud on the horizon, at present no bigger than a man’s hand, and it is the forthcoming review of the EU’s 2001 directive on jams, jellies, marmalades and sweetened chestnut purees.
We all know how these reviews become consultations, and how consultations become regulations; and there is a chance that someone in Brussels may decide to bring home-made jam within the scope of the regulations – and then what? We jam-makers would be obliged to state, on oath, the exact sugar content. We might be obliged to warn that jam is a potential cause of obesity, and heaven knows what else.
It is absurd that this innocent industry should have this threat lowering over it, and it is all because of the qualified majority voting – the veto-abolishing system that will be greatly extended by the new reform treaty.
That is why I say again: referenda est constitutio. Let us have a referendum on the constitution, and show Brussels once and for all that we don’t need this kind of absurd law-making.
If Gordon Brown will not honour his promises, let us demand a new government, and a new political agenda that puts the conserve into Conservatism, and offers a guarantee of home-made jam today, jam tomorrow, and jam for the foreseeable future.