Gardening fanatic Barbara of the Jammery tells us about the allotment that is her passion and how the fruitful results of her labours get turned into jam and other preserves
1. Some people may be a bit surprised that you can grow enough fruit in Brixton to make and sell jam – tell us how you do it.
I live in a flat with a tiny back yard and front garden, where I grow tomatoes, herbs and orchids in pots. But my main pride and joy is my allotment in Herne Hill. It’s got a Victoria plum tree, which produced 20kg of plums in my first year. Then the second year I had 40kg! I got sick of eating plum pie and plum tart – that’s when I decided I had to have a go at making jam! I only make jam from fruit I can pick myself on my allotment, from friends or in the wild. For example, I made some great blackberry and apple jelly last week from brambles I picked on the hill by my allotment.
2. So did you have a lot of previous experience of jam making?
None at all. The first lot I made tasted great but was a bit runny. I go on the internet and find recipes, but I’ve learnt through experience you can’t just, for instance, triple all the quantities. And I’ve had to experiment with different fruit to get different levels of pectin to get a good set.
3. You’re from Chicago originally – they take home-made preserves quite seriously in America, don’t they?
American foodies are definitely into making everything from scratch, like pâté, and bottling fruit and veg (they call it canning over there). I can buy equipment in the States that doesn’t exist over here. And the US Department of Agriculture publishes standards for preserving food, which I follow, though of course I’m also registered with Lambeth Council as a food producer. I boil my jars to sterilise them before filling with jam and again for 10 minutes after filling. I also use a two-part lid so that I can replace the central part if I use the jar again. I do encourage people to return the jar by offering a refund of 30p – the jar is the most expensive part of the product and it’s great if I can reuse it rather than buying more new ones.
4. You sell some of your jam already through Brixton Cornercopia – how did you get involved with them?
When I started making jam I had so much I couldn’t eat it all or give it away. So I saw a flyer from Brixton Cornercopia offering to sell produce from local makers and thought I’d give it a go. They suggested making jams with less sugar, so it was back to experimenting again! Now I’ve discovered a German pectin that lets me use about one pint of sugar to three pints of fruit, compared with the usual ratio of one pint of sugar to one pint of fruit. With less sugar the jam tends to discolour a bit more quickly, but it’s only cosmetic – it still tastes good!
5. So why did you decide to join Makerhood?
I have my own website, but I haven’t worked out how to sell stuff on it through e-commerce, so I would tell people to email me or go to Cornercopia to buy my jam. Now I can link them to the Makerhood site! I also tend to take stuff in batches to Cornercopia – Makerhood means I can carry on selling in between, as it accumulates.
6. What do you like about living in Brixton?
I love the sense of community here. Whenever I’m in my tiny front garden, people will always stop for a chat as they go by – ladies in their Sunday finery on their way to church will tell me to be careful of my knees! And in my local pub, the Trinity, people will always talk to me. I go in on my own with a book and end up chatting to the locals.
7. Finally, what’s your favourite place or experience around here?
It has to be my allotment. There are 450 plots, so there are always people around, but it’s the most peaceful place I know. It gives me a wonderful sense of space – the trees, birds singing, bugs in the grass – as well as views of the London Eye, the Shard and Canary Wharf. It’s completely magical. My husband proposed to me there, on a winter night, in the dark, as we were watering the plants!
You can buy Barbara’s flavour-packed jams and chutneys at http://brixton.makerhood.com/jammery