The Goat Shit & Courgette Chronicles III: You Jammy, Jammy, Bastard

This is the third blog post in a series documenting my time cooking on a French goat farm. to read the introductory post, which is an explainer of how on earth I ended up there, and and overview of the hilariously grim cooking conditions, click here. if you just want to know how to make really sodding lovely plum jam, then read on.

At the end of my last post, I said I’d tell you what I made for dinner on my second night on the Goat Farm. I then realised I’d basically made this recipe I wrote about a million years ago: Hearty Italian Chicken Stew. There were a few alterations: instead of using tinned tomatoes, which were nowhere to be found, I’d used two of those Lloyd Grossman style sauce jar things, which were rather too sweet for everyone’s liking – and I didn’t have any spinach so I subbed it with kale and topped everything with cheese. Anyway. That’s what I made. It was nice enough. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Instead, this post is all about jam, bizarre tea-drinking habits, and creepy old Italian men. 

The thought of jam crossed my mind pretty early on in the whole debacle. When I arrived at the farm, and realised the place was basically a health-hazard theme park, I had to take a few moments to breathe. Here’s the extract from my diary at the time:

“I went back through the barn to put my tent up in the patch of garden, which in contrast to the rest of the farmyard, was relatively clear from debris and pleasantly dappled in late afternoon sunlight. Overhung by three large plum trees laden with fruit, and surrounded by overgrown stone walls around 8ft high, I felt more peaceful here than in the rest of the farm.”

The plums. It was the the plums that convinced me to stay. There were hundreds of them, pops of colour peeking out from the foliage and weighing the branches down with their beckoning plumpness. The thought of filling clean jars with hot jam danced around in my frontal lobes, replacing any feelings of panic or unease, so I went back to the barn to ask Evelyne what she usually did with them. Did they make jam, pies, crumbles, and chutneys? Surely it was time to pick them soon? Could I help? My eagerness must have been palpable because Evelyne laughed, then reminded me that the family didn’t eat any carbohydrates – but reassured me I could do whatever I liked with them. I asked if they ate the plums at all. No. They didn’t. Something inside me shrivelled up whimpered, but hey, at least I had free run of the lot. 

The lack of an oven ruled out any baking; I had only a hotplate to work with, with just one functional ring. (By the way, as a matter of politeness, never ask whether someone’s ring is functional or not. You’ll find out soon enough.) 

Ahem. Yes. so while I could have made some sort of fruit-studded steamed pudding like it was 1952 again, I thought better of it because the sheer quantity of plums would have meant making at least 25 puddings, which, with one hot-plate, would have taken me approximately a thousand years. Chutney would have been nice to do too, but required a fair few more ingredients than jam, most of which I’m sure Evelyne hadn’t heard of, let alone bought for the last 20 years. Jam it was then. 

Jam, if you don’t know, requires just two ingredients; sugar and fruit. A third element needed to make jam is heat – it has to be brought up to 105 degrees centigrade for the pectin strands, a type of starch found in fruit, to unravel and form a gel, producing that characteristic soft set. I had two out of the three elements ready to go: the heat, and the plums, winking back at me from their leafy home – ripe and ready for eviction. All I needed was to ask where the sugar was kept. 

Turn out, being keto, they didn’t have any in. I asked Evelyne if she’d be so kind as to get me some from the market later that day (she’d asked if I’d needed anything at least six times in the last hour) and she was very obliging. I waited until the next day to make the jam, scampering up into the tree at the first opportunity, accompanied by Isaac, one of the other volunteers, who held a pan out for me to load up with plums from above. I tasted a few to get an early idea of the amount of sugar I’d need – they weren’t overly sweet but they weren’t the tart bullets I was used to dealing with back in Cornwall when I’d make Kea Plum jam. To my surprise given their deep purple hue, these plums were also on the side of under, rather than over-ripe, which was an added advantage for jam making because underripe fruit has a higher pectin content, so sets better.

I picked 1.5kg of plums, then sat in the sunshine of the courtyard, washing, halving, destoning and picking the bad bits out with my new opinel knife. I weighed them after I was done: 1.3kg. Evelyne had bought me a kilo of sugar. That’d have to do.

Returning with my bounty to the coolness of the main room in the farmhouse (I really can’t call it a kitchen), I started stewing down the plums with a dash of water from the tap. You cook the fruit a little bit first when you make jam, and then you add the sugar. Apparently this stops the fruit skins going hard; something to do with osmosis I think. 

Once my plums were sufficiently soft, I added in the sugar, actually a little at a time rather the whole kilo in at once. I tasted it as I went, and only ended up using around 850g because I like it to bite back a bit. I say ‘only’ 850g because – and I know this sounds like a lot to anyone who isn’t into preserving – jam is usually around a 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar. Anyway. I then boiled this up while I tweeted banal nothings and stirred it every now and again.  

I then cleaned out two large old mustard jars firstly using hot water and dish soap, then steeped them in boiling water, along with their lids, to completely sterilise them. This is top stop any mould growing. I didn’t have any preserving discs, which are essentially little circles of greaseproof paper (again, another method to inhibit mould growth) but I figured that this wouldn’t be much of a problem because there were volunteers here who hadn’t seen anything with sugar in it for a good few days – without wishing to sound arrogant, I was pretty sure the jam wouldn’t last long. 

When it’d reached setting point (tested by leaving a teaspoon of it on a plate and seeing if a wrinkly skin formed when pushed with a finger after a few minutes) I poured it carefully into the jars and popped the lids on. I then handed the nearly-empty jam pan to Isaac, who used a piece of bread to mop up the remainder. Pleased with my work, I popped the jars on the table to cool down, where around an hour later they both made satisfying ‘plip’ noises as the lid seals reinstated themselves due to the drop in temperature creating a small vacuum effect.

That evening, one of Greg’s friends, Pedro, came to tea. Pedro was Italian, but had lived in France for 50 years. He spoke no English but brought with him a six litre box of Cote de Rhone, which him and Greg made alarmingly good progress with. After lubricating himself rather generously, Pedro turned his attention to me, and Greg translated, badly. 

“Pedro wants to try your jam,” Greg chuckled, pointing at the jars. Pedro had already made noises indicating he liked my cooking (I’d made a white-bean, parsley and ham hock salad, plus various bits and bobs including sautéed kale with chilli butter) but this was where he properly looked me up and down while talking to me – I understood only the word ‘confiture’. I relented and handed him the full jar, along with a teaspoon. I doubt it even had time to cool down properly before being rudely awakened again. Pedro ate some and then his eyes widened. He said something else and Greg laughed.

“He wants to marry you!” And Pedro pointed at his ring finger, which was already adorned with a gold wedding band, and then to me again. 

“He says you make much better jam than his wife.” 

I laughed and rolled my eyes but secretly I was pleased that I could make better jam than a septuagenarian French woman, unless it was Pedro just being a dirty-old-man-flirt. A few more glasses of wine on his part led me to believe that the latter was probably more likely to be true than the former. Oh, by the way – Pedro drove home after consuming at least two bottles of wine. Greg asked me if he could take a jar of jam with him, but I’d only made two and he had a wife who was probably perfectly competent at making jam already, so I said no. Partially because I didn’t want to reward daft and suggestive behaviour, but partially because I’d already promised it to Phillipe to take with him when I left. 

Phillipe was one of the other volunteers, a deeply animated and superbly vocal Frenchman with a lovely dog called Kazoo. His love of nicotine was rivalled only by his love of sugar: the man could not get enough of the stuff, so was deeply floored when the household he’d so innocently given his time to didn’t provide anything remotely sweet in return. He was thrilled when I gave him a jar at breakfast the next day. So thrilled in fact, that he plopped a large spoon of it into his cup of tea immediately. I did the visual equivalent of gagging, eyes out on hypothetical, deeply questioning stalks.

“What is wrong?” he said, clocking my expression of disbelief.

“I…you…the jam…” I spluttered like a pan of chip fat. 

“Is sugar, non?” he said, still stirring.

“I suppose, but it’s got bits in, hasn’t it?” I searched desperately for some logic. “Is it not really weird?”

“You have to try it before you can call anything weird.”

The man had a point. I kept my mouth shut because the more I argued, the more he’d try and make me drink it.



I suppose I’m not especially well-versed enough in prose to know how to end things like this, but I will give you one more short jam-related anecdote from my time on the goat farm.

I asked Greg whether he might have any labels or such like, so I could ascribe a date and description to the remaining, sealed pot of jam. Greg searched around in four of around 16 drawers in the mahogany dresser, coming up with all sorts of things which were definitely not sticky labels (letter knife, corkscrew, dog shampoo, old rye bread, boat varnish, tin of mackerel). He pulled out a roll of duct tape. 

“Will this suffice?” he asked

“Aye” I said. “That’ll dae.”





















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