To be a professional judge requires humility, tact, years of practical experience and sensitivity when writing comments. I leave my high personal standard at home and judge the jars according to the standard before me. Any personal preferences for flavours are also left at home.
The skills and experience necessary to make full flavoured, fruity, crystal clear jellies are different to those for jam. Jellies take longer to make and their yield is not economical. Recipes for jam combine cooked fruit with sugar. Recipes for jelly use the juice from the fruit pulp, combined with sugar.
Making jellies with low pectin fruit or with combinations of alcohol and low pectin fruit often produces disappointing products. Low pectin fruit, strawberries, rhubarb and cherries might need chemical additives in the form of liquid pectin to achieve a set, and any remaining fruit flavour may be compromised. Alternatively, low pectin fruit is often mixed with high pectin fruit to achieve a gelled set.
When judging jellies I use the same mark scheme for other preserves, with marks for the jar, colour and quantity, quality, flavour and aroma
The Jar – 2 marks
Jellies are potted into small jars no bigger than 225g. The jar should be clear, straight-sided with a new twist top lid or waxed disc and cellophane cover. If the jar is sealed correctly, it will pop when opened. A recycled lid might not seal the jelly, and if used first time around to seal a vinegar preserve, it might taint the aroma of the jelly. Straight-sided jars tend not to trap air bubbles. The jar should be clean and labelled with the name of the jelly and the date made.
Colour and Quantity – 5 marks
The colour should be exceptionally bright, even throughout, without scum, air bubbles or haze, and the jar full, to within 3mm from the top. A small torch can be used to check the clarity.
Jellies like jams should have a bright colour if the sugar has been warmed in a low oven before adding it in the final stages of cooking. Insipid coloured quince, gooseberry and apple juices will have their final colours enhanced if the sugar is added cold.
Quality ( Consistency and Texture) – 6 marks
Using a small sharp knife, I remove a portion of the jelly to check the consistency and texture. If herbs have been added to the jelly they should be evenly distributed and cooked, not raw. I look for a jelly which holds its shape but also trembles. The jelly should be gelled, not stiff and not syrupy. Savoury jellies are expected to be slightly firmer than sweet ones. If over-ripe fruit has been used, or If the juice for the jelly has too much water in it, the consistency will not be correct. A pectin test before the sugar is added often helps to identify possible problems.
Flavour and Aroma – 7 marks
As soon as I open a jar of jelly, I smell it to check the aroma. It should be fruity without taint. The flavour should be true, full, well-blended fruit and sweetness with sub-acid.
When I have finished judging a class, I return to the award winners and check that I have been consistently fair in my judging.
Practical guides to judging and entering competitions are contained in my Preserves Books