I find jam one of the most straightforward preserves to judge, although each year I am presented with a new fruit or new flavour combinations; one reason why I never tire of judging. Variations in the weather, affect the quality and flavour of jam. When I make, taste or judge jam, there is inevitably something new to learn.

A well written show schedule helps both entrants and judges to have a clear understanding of what is expected, which may vary from show to show. To judge a Jam class fairly, it is important to have a clear set of standards. The standards I learnt during my training to be a judge, over 20 years ago, have stood the test of time.

The Jar – 2 marks

I prefer to judge jams in clear glass jars with new twist top lids. These jars and lids are designed to create airtight seals when the jam is poured into the jars and the lids are screwed on. When the jar is opened for judging, it should “pop” as the seal is broken. The way the jars are filled, sealed and stored affects the keeping qualities. If the jars or lids are dirty, or the jars are not full or sealed when the jam drops below 82C (180F) mould may develop. Label the jar with the name of the jam and the date made. Jars look more attractive if they are sparkling clean. Adding frills, paper covers, ribbons and gingham should not gain extra marks, unless specified in the show schedule.

Colour and Quantity – 5 marks

I look for a bright and even coloured jam. A dark, dull colour is often caused by over-boiling the jam to a set. The longer the boil after the sugar has been added, the darker the colour and the fruit flavour may be compromised. Jams made with Jam Sugar ( with added pectin) often produce jams with unnaturally bright colours, for example, Strawberry jam.

The jar should be full to within 3mm from the top. The best way to achieve this is to fill the jar to the brim. As the jam cools and sets, it shrinks slightly, creating a small gap and an airtight seal between the surface of the jar and the underside of the lid.

Quality ( Consistency and Texture) – 6 marks

Using a spoon, I test the consistency and texture of the jam. I look for a gelled jam, with a set but spreadable consistency. If the jam has a pouring consistency, perhaps it was not boiled enough after adding the sugar and failed to set. A stiff consistency is often due to over- boiling the jam.

A syrupy consistency can be caused by using over-ripe fruit. To make the best jam use just-ripe fruit. Riper fruit decline in pectin content. Jams made from stone or soft fruit with skins should be tender, not chewy. These fruit should be cooked gently in water to soften their skins before the sugar is added. A reliable recipe should make jam with the correct texture and consistency.

Flavour and Aroma – 7 marks

I always smell the jam hoping for a fruity aroma, devoid of taint or mustiness. Aromas are often spoilt by re-cycled lids. A jam with an infusion of a vinegar preserve from an old lid is unpleasant. The flavour of the jam should be a balance; not too sweet and not too fruity, but true to the ingredients in the recipe.

Choosing Winners

Towards the end of judging and particularly if the class is large, I always return to the best jars, to check that I am applying the standards consistently and as a result being fair to all entrants.

Practical guides to entering competitions and judging are contained in my Preserves Books

A Quick Guide to Judging Jam from Vivien Lloyd on Vimeo.

cheap Jam jars and lids

Making Raspberry Jam

show judge

show judge