Rosella Jam is the simple sweetheart of this subtropical gardener.
In early spring she buries rosella seeds in a sunny corner of the garden and forgets about them.
The jam stays in her heart all spring and summer, while the little rosella plants turn into big rosella bushes, bullying neighbours out of their way. But the gardener doesn’t mind. She leaves things be, and waits and waits, and when the sun throws long shadows, she returns to the spot and, with secateurs and a big bowl, goes to work on the spent hibiscus flowers.
First slow patient harvesting then slow patient peeling. Only then does the recipe begin.
Rosella (Wild Hibiscus) Jam
- Rosella fruit and their seeds
- White cane sugar
Immerse the picked fruit in a bowlful of water and agitate vigorously, to get off any dirt and insects.
Peel each fruit of all red flesh and make a bowl for the red bits and a bowl for the left over round white seeds. This takes quite a while, so make a cup of tea for the journey and take a comfy seat. Discard any soft or insect-dirtied fruit as you go.
When done, add the seeds to a medium sized saucepan and fill the saucepan with water to just cover the seeds, and then a little more. Bring the seeds to a simmer over a medium flame and simmer well for 20 minutes. You can take a bit longer with this if you like, or let it sit for awhile after they’ve simmered. Basically, you’re just trying to get the pectin (the setter of jams) out of the seeds, and it’s kind of invisible, so it’s hard to say exactly how long this process takes.
Next, drain the seeds (and discard) and save the liquid. Transfer the red fruit segments to a large, wide saucepan or preserving pan, and add the liquid to the pan. Now simmer these red bits until they wilt and are soft enough to smoosh on the side of the pan with your stirring spoon.
At this point, many recipes tell you to measure the rosella fruit and liquid and then add the equivalent volume of white sugar. But I find that all rosella fruit are different and the amount of liquid you’ve cooked them in varies, too. So the best thing to do is to add the sugar by taste. You can measure, too, if you like. In the last batch I made, I added 3 cups of sugar to 4 cups of rosella fruit and liquid.
Start with less than this (about 2 cups of sugar to 4 cups of rosella fruit and liquid), and then put the pot on a low flame, stirring, to dissolve the sugar. Once it’s dissolved, taste the jam, and see if it’s the perfect balance between astringency, sweetness and tang. If it’s too tart, add more sugar. Do all this without heating up the jam too much.
Before you start properly heating your jam, put 5 teaspoons on a small plate in the freezer (for testing the setting point later) and start sterilizing your equipment. The easiest way to do this is in the oven. Preheat your oven to 120C and make sure your jars and lids are super clean. Make sure you’ve got enough jars to deal with 3 litres of jam. Place the jars and lids, open side up, on a tray in the middle of your oven and leave them there to sterilize while the jam cooks. Place the seals (if you’re using Fowlers Vacola Jars) and a funnel and ladle in a large bowl and fill your kettle with water to boil. No need to pour the water yet- you can do that closer to filling time.
Once you’ve reached the right level of sweetness, bring the jam to a vigorous boil, scraping the bottom and stirring as it heats to a boil. When boiling, set your timer for 5 minutes and if there’s a lot of froth rising to the surface, start skimming it off with a large metal spoon. Rinse the spoon every now and then so that you don’t transfer any sticking froth back to the mixture between skims. After 5 minutes, take the pot from the heat and finish skimming any remaining froth.
Return the pot to a high heat and once boiling again, set your timer for 25 minutes. Through these 25 minutes, continue to stir the jam as often as you need to, to make sure it’s not catching on the bottom of the pan. Watch out for spitting- as the jam thickens, stirring can become a little dangerous!
You shouldn’t really have to test the setting point of the jam sooner than 25 minutes, but to be sure, do a few tests as you’re stirring the jam: pull the spatula out of the pot and hold it sideways, letting it drip back into the pot. The closer you get to the setting point, to less ‘drip-like’ the syrup dropping back into the pot becomes. It will start to look more viscous, sticky almost, and the drips will try to amalgamate on the spatula before falling into the pot. As well as this change, you will notice the jam becomes thicker, more consistent, and the bubbles clearer, plentiful and more ‘crisp’ in form.
If more foam rises as you’re stirring the jam, skim it off. By the end of the jam’s cooking, you should have a perfectly clean surface.
Once 25 minutes has passed, and if it seems like the drops off the spatula are starting to become less drop-like, it’s time to start testing for the set. Take the pot off the heat and take 1 frozen teaspoon and the saucer out of the freezer. Stir the jam to make it consistent than scoop out a small amount of representative jam from the pot and drop it on the frozen teaspoon. Quickly place the teaspoon on the saucer and take it back to the freezer to cool. Don’t leave it there too long. You want the back of the teaspoon to feel the same temperature as the back of your hand. Test it after a minute or two. If it’s still warm, put it back in the freezer. If it’s too cold, start again.
Once the teaspoon of jams come down to room temperature, you can test the setting point. Tip the teaspoon so the jam spills onto your fingertip. It should run slowly off the spoon, and almost in one stretched out piece. It should be kind of ‘gloppy’ in consistency. If so, you’ve reached setting point and there’s no more jam cooking to be done. If the jam runs more quickly onto your finger, and seems more syrupy, with solid chunks, rather than consistently gloppy, you have some more cooking to do.
Quickly put the jam back on the stove on high heat and cook for another couple of minutes, before testing again. Take the jam off the heat every time you test, and repeat the teaspoon test until you have a gloppy, slow running jam. Once this is achieved, leave the jam off the heat and prepare to fill your jars.
Pour boiling water over the seals (if using), funnel and ladle. Take the jam jars and lids out of the oven (but leave the oven on) and set up your work space with the pot of jam and bottles close by each other. Use the funnel and ladle to fill the jars leaving only ½ cm space at the top. Make sure the jars aren’t so hot that they scorch the jam, by trying out a little jam in one jar first. If it sizzles and spits when it hits the glass, let the jars sit for a minute or two before filling. Use a tea towel to hold the jar as you place the seal on top, or screw the lid on tightly.
Place all the closed jars back on the tray and put back in the oven for 15 minutes, to seal.