‘Side-hustle’ was a popular buzz phrase even pre-2020, but the year of COVID-19 forced business to adapt and evolve to keep the income flowing during tough times. Many bakeries and patisseries turned to selling essentials, as well as creating their own small-batch preserves. We’re here to boil down the hows, whys and what’s what of jams, jellies, compotes and conserves—and more!
Prior to the introduction of electricity and refrigeration, and our ability to easily import and export in-season fresh produce, preserving fruits and vegetables was a necessity to ensure there would be food available throughout the winter seasons or during long journeys. Before canning and jarring became commonplace, people smoked, salted, dried and fermented various foods (including meat!).
The Greeks and Romans were known to store fruit in honey as a method of preserving, but because sugar was expensive, preserves like jams and jellies as we know them didn’t become common until the 19th Century, when the price of sugar became less prohibitive for using in large quantities.
Now, preserves are more of an art than a necessity (although some would argue that a beautiful jam is indeed a necessity for a fresh English muffin!), with no end of options for creating different flavour combinations.
Chef, author, presenter and owner and creator of Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio in Melbourne has a popular line of jams and other preserves and is keen to spread (pun intended) the word about jam.
“We’ve been doing them (preserves) since forever—about 10 years,” Darren says.
“What I used to like to do was have some of the components that run through our desserts that could be purchased independently.
“Back in the day I was selling little packets of crumble that people could make their own desserts, and the crumble would be a by-product of one of the bases of one of the cakes.
“Jam is a really natural one; we use a lot of jam inside lots of different desserts and cakes, so it just makes sense to make extra and put it in a jar, then people can have it at home. But it’s the same recipe as the one that runs through, so there’s a common theme that runs through the shop.”
As a way of preserving in-season produce to last the rest of the year, Darren says many of his small-batch jams, jellies, relishes and preserved fruits are largely unplanned and based more on what’s available at the time.
“I go to the market and I see whatever’s in season—if someone’s got something that looks awesome that is not part of a cake on the menu then we grab those anyway and we do special small-batch runs of preserve,” he says.
Often, it’s possible to get fruit much cheaper when it’s in oversupply and close to hitting its used-by date for eating fresh—and this is the perfect fruit to make a jam!
“I don’t go down with an idea of what I want; I go down there and say ‘What have you got?’ and they’ll say ‘we’ve got these awesome raspberries that are grown in Victoria but we’ve got too many and they’ve almost passed already’,” says Darren.
“So I’ll buy a bulk lot of that at a cheaper rate and turn it into something here.
“It’s not just limited to sweets; I’ve done all sorts of stuff—I did a batch of preserved lemons last year; I do a really cool mango chutney as well. So even though we are a ‘sweet studio’, we have a couple of savoury items as well.”
As you can see, preserves are a great way to prevent food waste, whether it’s from an oversupply of in-season produce going off, or even just your own kitchen scraps.
“All of the leftovers—if you’re a bakery and you’re making salads and you’ve got, for example, kohlrabi or cabbage or whatever, keep all that trim and ferment it, then you can make your own sauerkraut,” says Darren.
“There are unlimited options. You can dry the stuff, you can use it in smoked ingredients, you can ferment it… you can do all sorts of things.
“Trying to minimise food waste as a whole and turning it into something that can either sell in a jar, or you’re jarring it up yourself and using that as an ingredient in something.
“There’s probably even more bakeries can do because they’re making sandwiches and stuff—so tomato relishes, chilli jams and all of that stuff is really good as well.”
Darren’s range of preserves and other pantry items available at Burch & Purchese include some really unique flavours like strawberry, chocolate and balsamic jam, chocolate and hazelnut spread, salted-caramel spread, quince jelly (Darren recommends this with cheese!), and he’s planning to do a big batch of marmalade now that we’ve hit citrus season.
“We’ve got legions of fans that love our raspberry jam; they come back for more and we’ve got people who pop in just to see what’s available,” he says.
“They are really popular, but also they make up part of a package. We’re big on gifting, so it’s awesome to have a jam or a jarred item in your hamper. It makes our whole package that much better.”
One of the best things about making jams and other preserves is that anyone can do it, and it can be done well in advance.
“If there’s a particular jam we know we’ll want to push out for Christmas—say for example, there’s an apple and blackberry jam that we make—that will get made now because we’re in that sort of season,” says Darren.
“I cook the jam—and I don’t have any special jam-cooking machine; it’s all done on the stove.
“All of our customers love it; they’re super fresh and awesome ingredients; everything’s local.
“We’ve been doing it forever and I just love doing it.”
So what’s the difference between jam and jelly, or compote and conserve? Let’s take a look!
Jam is to a freshly baked scone as honey is to the bee, and a pantry staple for most households. Jam is made from crushed or chopped fruit (berries are a popular choice!) which is cooked with sugar until the fruit is soft and the mixture thickens to a spreadable consistency. Sometimes pectin may be added to aid in setting the product.
Not to be confused with the wibbly-wobbly gelatinous dessert, jelly preserves are very much like jam, but the fruit mixture is finely strained (often through a muslin cloth or a special jelly bag) to remove the fruit solids, achieving a gem-like clarity when set. After the fruit has been boiled and strained, the remaining fruit juice is boiled rapidly with sugar and sometimes pectin so that is sets with a firm consistency.
Conserves are jams made from a mixture of various fruits, and sometimes even nuts and dried fruits.
Compote is made with fresh or dried fruit, cooked low and slow in a sugar syrup so that the fruit pieces stay somewhat intact. However, unlike preserves compote is usually used straight away.
Marmalade is a jelly that contains pieces of citrus rind, delivering a balance of sweet and sour along with a slight bitterness from the pith. Marmalade usually doesn’t require added pectin due to the large quantities already present in the citrus.
Fruit butters are a smooth and rich preserve with deeper flavours than most of the other types. The fruit pulp (lemon is a popular flavour) is slow-cooked with sugar to reduce the liquid content and achieve a denser texture.
Moving over to the savoury side of preserves, chutney can be thought of as a jam that brings together the sweetness of fruit with the tang of vinegar and some added spices for zest. Chutney is made without pectin and uses less sugar than most preserves.