Ron Bendell: How long will this mania for jam-making continue?
Warty old crones cackling as they stir something in a sizzling cauldron are nothing new in my part of the world – best to keep doors and windows firmly bolted when the local WI is on the prowl – but it seems the practice is spreading. And no longer does it only involve ladies in pointed hats knocking up a gruesome mix including eye of newt, toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog. There is a younger, more attractive demographic taking part serving up something far tastier. They're all out there making jam.
According to The Grocer, that is. This week's edition of the trade paper reveals that sales of sugar, pectin and other jam-making bits and bobs are up 20 per cent on this time last year and pick-your-own farms are reporting a similar increase in trade. The nation's cookers are humming.
The sheer abundance of fruit this time round is clearly a factor and also celebrity endorsement by folk like the Duchess of Cambridge. But the biggest element seems to be one of lifestyle choice. Rosemary Jameson of the Guild of Jam and Preserve Makers told the magazine: "People are simplifying their lives."
Now, while anything that helps to encourage more home cooking of any description is something to be welcomed, it's at this point I must take issue. Simplify? The word simple – in whatever form – and the word jam do not go together. I make gallons of the stuff every year and simple it ain't. There's the back-breaking job of collecting the fruit. It has to be washed to get rid of bugs, then boiled and, if you're after jelly, strained using a variety of cumbersome methods. It then has to be re-boiled with sugar and checked again and again to see if is likely to set. Finally it's poured into jars, an operation that carries with it the very real and present danger of death by scalding.
Buy one get one free on main course and specials excludes fillet steaks and beef wellingtons
Must book to qualify and present voucher on arrival 01209860332
Contact: 01209 700617
Valid until: Wednesday, December 11 2013
Yes, there's the joy of at last putting those little labels on the side of something tangible but the whole process has taken a long time and involved worry at every step. News of the rise in jam making carries with it, too, the implication that Britain is turning to home-made preserves as a way of saving money. Again, this is quite obvious tosh. Making your own costs a fortune.
The PYO figures suggest that not all are getting their fruit for free and the mountain of sugar needed soon adds up. To do the job well you will also require a rather expensive preserving pan and many will add a professional touch by using a special thermometer and fancy brand new jars that, inexplicably, appear to cost more empty than full.
Don't forget either the energy costs involved in getting the stuff cooked and in providing the bowser of hot soapy water needed to sluice down the kitchen once the operation is over.
Add in your own labour at the National Minimum Wage hourly rate and each pot costs the same as a medium sized tub of Beluga caviare.
If simplicity and economy are what you are after just go down to the shop and buy the ready made stuff. And that – after this summer's bubble of jam making – is just what most of the new converts will do.
It was the same with vegetable growing. Can you remember the big clamour for allotments a few years ago?
The demands that limited public money be diverted from schools and hospitals so that people in dungarees could salve their eco-consciences by growing organic chard? In many cases the money was spent and all went well. For a while at least. Then followed two or three very wet, very cold seasons and many quickly became disillusioned at the work and sweat needed to provide some pretty poor results. With what they had spent on rent, tools and seeds each blight-ridden spud came in at not far short of a tenner. The land was left to the weeds and the tenants were back in the fruit and veg aisle at Morrisons.
With the current passable conditions there will be similar calls for "land for the people" this year but before too much time, money and hope is invested in meeting those pleas it would be wise to work out who really is a friend of the soil.
There must be a few vacant lots available. I shall carry on churning out pot after pot as usual with all the expense and frustration that involves. Perhaps the word simple does apply after all.