Making Jams at Vale House Kitchen

Making Jams at Vale House Kitchen

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Vale House Kitchen is situated just outside of Bath and offers a number of cookery and activity courses. I sent my mum and brother along, as a sort of experimental blogging assignment, telling them to assume the identities of middle class secret agents with a license to use the words ‘delightful’ and ‘whimsy’. They did not find it hard to adapt. This blog then is a first hand account written by my own mother. I have provided an editors commentary throughout.

Did you find Vale House Kitchen ok? I know you struggle to find the sat nav on your iPhone.

We were very conveniently picked up from a local pub, making parking easy, and also didn’t have to find Vale House down all the country roads.  

That’s good to know, I like that you've gone into so much detail on logistics, something I normally shun completely in favour of an introduction.

Tell us the story of your day, spin the yarn...

When we got there, we were introduced to our other 'jammers' (I prefer ‘jamsters’ but I’ll let that slide) and offered tea/coffee along with tasters of the jams, jellies and cordials we would be making that day. We were given folders with recipes to use and take home. When asked if I had made jam before I said yes, but that I tried to cut down on sugar – a big 'no,no' as that doesn't constitute 'jam' it has to have right amount of sugar. If not, it is a spread.

Good fact.

A picture popped up on my timeline of Richard (my brother) pouring gin into a jam?

Yes, it was special gin from the Stratheam Distillery, Perth. We also added port to jelly. If you don't like alcohol then you can also add herbs which work well.

Sometimes I add port to a glass, but that’s just me.

I have to say thought that the samples were delicious, not too sweet, as really high quality fruit had been used. We were also told not to wash the fruit as this changes the consistency – in other words pick clean, dry fruit! The fruit we were using on the day was local including some amazing strawberries from Cheddar.

Did you actually get round to making any jam then in between eating fruit normally reserved for the Waitrose marketing department?

Yes, it’s very technical actually. Techniques we learnt were how to recognise a 'rolling boil' so you catch the jam just as it sets. You need a large metal spoon to make jam (better than wooden) so that you can do the 'flake' test to check. When you lift the spoon out of the pan, if the jam sets slightly like a small stalactite hanging off the spoon then you are in business.

Did you know that it’s best to use new jars – not as I do, recycle and struggle with old tops.

If that is a definition of a struggle then you have lived a sheltered life.

Quick technique also for closing the jar, turning one way and then the other to ensure a good seal.

Another top tip is that granulated sugar is best to use rather than cane – and never bother with special jam sugars.

I hope you realised you just trolled the entire specialist jam sugar manufacturing industry there...

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At the end of the day we had all made jam, jelly and cordial and were able to take several sample jars home. Tiring but very satisfying.

Nice gaff?

The facilities at Vale House Kitchen were a very modern, light, clean and well equipped with double doors looking out onto their swimming pool. It was a bit like being on Masterchef, but overlooking a pool.

Lunch was in the family dining room – we were welcomed into the family for lunch and able to see some of their home.

Sounding like I may have sent you to an episode of Come Dine With Me...

So the day was a success? Any issues that you’d like to raise?

Just me being rubbish with anything technical – found the induction hob a little confusing and took a while to work the scales – but that's just me!

Does Vale House have any other courses?

Yes, you should take a look on their website. Some really unusual ones. Fly fishing, pig butchery and foraging. Also shooting – you then get to clean and cook what you have shot.

You sound quite taken with the shooting, which is ominous considering your skills working a pair of kitchen scales.

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Who's that?

That’s Vivienne Lloyd, she was top quality – and has been making jam for over 30 years. She is patron of the Jampionships (which is a competition to find the best jam in the world). She herself won 'Best of the Best' in the Marmalade Awards in 2008. Also, wrote the book 'First Preserves' and campaigns for traditional preserves. She was involved in the speech by MP Tessa Munt about the percentage of sugar in jam.

Well, before we get into a family wide political argument, I think we'll call that a day! For more information on courses offered by Vale House Kitchen, please visit their website. The 'Summer Jams, Jellies and Cordials' day was provided courtesy of Vale House Kitchen.

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