Conserves, preserves and jam

As my we were tootling along somewhere, for no remembered reason, we began to talk about jam… maybe we had started by talking about marmalade, the making of which we are experts, or maybe it was something else which triggered the conversation, but we began to wonder what the difference was between preserves and conserves and how they were different from jams. I knew I had looked at this before and had a guess that is was maybe the amount of fruit to sugar, or the size or sort of fruit…

here is what the Kilner (Kilner jar people) site says about it:

The main distinguishing factors between these preserves are:

  • The fruit used
  • The size of the fruit pieces
  • The addition or omission of flavourings
  • The procedure used to process the fruit and sugar mix

There is a marvellous little book, ‘Jams, Jellies and Preserves – How To make Them’ by Ethelind Fearon, first published in 1953 which has a really interesting introduction. It’s interesting for two reasons – one it has some great recipes and helpful advice, and secondly it’s an insight into how basic cooking has changed.

In talking about pectin, Ethelind reminds us that the most usual test for the amount of pectin in fruit is the methylated spirits test – I don’t suppose many of us have methylated spirits in our houses any more – maybe in the remote corner of the garage or garden shed, but in the kitchen? I don’t think so!

She also mentions that in the old days (the old days for her would have been way before the war) ‘old paper dipped in brandy was used for sealing the jars. This is now rather expensive…‘  Ethelind also reveals that many of her recipes came from a handwritten book of her grandmother’s; as Ethelind was born in 1878, her grandmother must have been born between fifty and sixty years before. here is what grandma said about sealing jam pots:

Observe to keep all wet sweetmeats in a dry cool place, for a wet damp place will make them mould and a hot dry place will dry up the virtue and make them candy. The best direction I can give is to dip writing paper in brandy, and lay it close to your sweetmeats, tie them down well with white paper and two folds of thick cap paper to keep out the air for nothing can be a greater fault than bad tying down and leaving the pots open.

In the ‘older days’ of course, people would have relied on their preserves to last them over the winter – no fridges, freezers or supermarkets!

Going back to the different types of preserves, here is a list:

  • jams – small or chopped or mashed fruit and sugar
  • jellies – fruit and sugar cooked and strained so there are no bits
  • preserves – whole fruit or large pieces and sugar
  • conserves – high fruit content, often with added dried fruit, nuts, etc, similar consistency to jam
  • marmalades – mixed citrus fruit and often with chopped or sliced peel, and sugar
  • fruit butters – puréed cooked fruit and less sugar, soft and spreadable – they don’t keep well so have to be eaten quickly – oh good!
  • curds/cheeses –  fruit, sugar, butter and eggs, and as with butters, and have to be eaten quickly

Here is a link to the Kilner jar site:

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