18 August 2013

Australian native jam

Do you know Lilly Pillys? Those bright pinky-purple berries that grow in many Perth yards, in hedges and public gardens, and on rambly old overgrown properties? I love the way they look and I like their name - its sounds quirky-romantic to me. 

As of last month, I now also love that they are edible, that they are an Australian native, and that they grow in our neighbour's yard between our two driveways.

So we were making jam again.

Eva was so excited by the idea that we could harvest these beautiful berries and make something edible that she was the main motivation for the project.

It was Greg's idea, though, and he put me onto this recipe, which we followed. I checked the internet to be sure I had lilly pillys and found there are over 60 different species of lilly pilly and all of them are edible.

The recipe calls for one lemon and 1kg of sugar per 1L of lilly pilly pulp. We doubled the amount of lemon, and wouldn't have wanted any less.

Next time I think I would go for a 3:4 ratio of sugar to pulp, as the 1:1 ratio has given us jam that is sweeter than it needs to be.

pulp coming through the sieve - it really is that colour

BUT: it is surprisingly delicious, and very beautiful. 

no it didn't boil down that far - I tipped it into a bigger pan so I could supervise it less closely
Six jars of lovely jam - 2L of pulp, about 2.5L of jam once sugar and lemon juice was added.

As I put too much water in when boiling the lilly pillys, I was left with a couple of litres of bright pink liquid once they were all scooped out. 

This I put in the fridge and used as a herbal tea. With half a teaspoon of honey per large mug, heated in the microwave, it was fantastic!

I am so excited that I cooked an Australian plant! OK, I don't think its native to the southwest of WA where I actually live, but at least its not from the northern hemisphere...

This is now our third jam-making session in less than a year (see posts on strawberries and nectarines). We are a big jam-eating house, but even so we are more than keeping up a supply for all our needs and gifts for friends. I am therefore now prepared to commit to NO MORE BUYING COMMERCIAL JAM.
Initial Time: About 3.5 hours - although the stove-top sections didn't require constant supervision, so actual labour time was closer to 2.5 hours (1/2 hour harvesting; 1/2 hour washing and preparing; 1/2 hour boiling; 1hr smooshing through a sieve to get seeds out and thin the pulp - this is the really labourious bit; 1/2 hour cooking; 1/2 hour bottling and cleaning up)

Initial Cost: About $2 for a bag of sugar. We remembered this time to get lemons from Grandma, and (with our neighbour's permission) the lilly pillys were free. She found the jar we gave her too sweet for her taste but her grandkids loved it.

Ongoing time or cost commitment: Half a day every three or four months to make whatever the latest seasonal jam will be.


Australian household spend on average about $1 per week on jam, with each Australian eating around 2kg of jam per year. We are a net exporter of 'jams, spreads, pastes, etc' - around $12mill worth per year, a small portion of the approximately $625mill annual export of substantially processed fruit and vegetable from Australia, and a blip beside the approximately $1.6bill of processed fruit and vegetables imported. Food and vegetable processing in general employs around 75,000 people in this country. (more stats here - from 2011-12). So not buying jam is not about reducing reliance on food imported from overseas. Very little if any of the jam available in supermarkets is produced in Western Australia, however, so we are reducing our food miles for produce trucked across Australia (I really hope it is trucked. Surely we don't need to fly our jam around? Actually I would love to think it was brought by rail... there is always hope, surely?)

Commercial manufacture of food products involves all manner of inputs and dependencies, such as: transport fuel, transport network, communications, banking services, electricity, gas, water (HEAPS of water is used in commercial processes!), chemicals for cleaning, preservatives to extend product life, packaging materials (including their production and transport)...

Think about it for a jar of jam:

Lid - sourcing raw materials (mining), processing them into a workable form, shaping the metal into a lid, adding labels (inks, dyes, etc and sometimes paper), at each of these stages transporting the stuff to the place where the next stage happens, at each stage a business operation with a footprint of all it takes to run an office (at bare minimum) and possibly a factory or a mine site. Quite likely a mine site that flies workers in and out every day or so.

Jar - sourcing raw materials (mining), turning them into glass (I'm no expert but that needs HEAT!!), shaping into jars. And at each stage another round of transport and business footprints.

Label - sourcing raw materials (forestry), turning them into paper, graphic design work, adding dyes etc to print and finish, glue to attach to jars. Add transport. Add business bits and pieces like the office coffee machine, toilet-flushing for all those staff, and replacing the carpets every few years...

Jam - sourcing raw materials (fruit, but also sugar, preservatives, corn syrup - although to be fair the Cottees and IXL jars I have left over in my pantry from before the jam-making began both have very few ingredients beyond fruit, water, citric acid and pectin), all the inputs required for horticulture including many pesticides, and lots and lots of water; all that is required to fit-out a factory for production.

And each piece has more sub-pieces that have their own chain of impact - Where did the glue come from? Where does the dye come from? What chemicals are used to clean all the equipment needed along the way? What materials are the machines in the factories made from?

By comparison our lilly pilly jam used:  recycled glass jars; about 30L of water to wash berries and jars, gas to run the stove; electricity to run the oven to sterilise the jars; no electricity for light or heating or cooling as we worked during the day on a nice winter's day; petrol to transport lemons from Grandma to us (but we didn't make a special trip); and all the supply-chain stuff above for commercially produced sugar - especially HEAPS of water that it takes to grow sugarcane. Our equipment (stove, our kitchen, the stainless steel saucepans, mixing bowls and spoons, plastic lemon squeezer) all comes from somewhere and has its own footprint.

Impact on my lifestyle: The only thing I may miss is ginger marmalade, unless I can find an acceptable recipe to try, and a cheap-enough source of ginger.

PS: North American friends, we Australians use 'jam' for what you call 'jelly'. 'Jelly' here is what you call 'jello'. Not so great on toast.