THE JAM pan stands shiny and clean on Sue Prickett”s cooker. This is a rare sight in the kitchen at Hutton Roof Hall because today the pan is empty and the air is not full of the rich aroma of simmering fruit.

Most days there is something to be peeled or stirred, bottled or labelled in this farmhouse kitchen near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria. And the person who does it all is Sue Prickett herself.

So it is even more remarkable that this farmer”s wife and dedicated jam maker has taken the foodie world by storm by winning the North West Producer of the Year award, sponsored by Booths and North West Fine Foods, beating hundreds of entries from many of the region”s renowned food makers.

Sue”s entry of a single jar of blackcurrant jam so impressed the large panel of expert judges that it emerged victorious to collect one of the UK”s most hotly-contested regional food titles. And to do it, this simple jar of home-made jam had to knock out some tough competition, including a host of regionally produced meats and cheeses whose quality usually puts them in an unassailable position.

SMALL BATCHES

My jam pan will only take four pounds of fruit so I only make small batches,” says Sue, who runs her small business from the farmhouse kitchen.

You won”t find her jams on the shelves of any supermarket. Most is sold at local craft fairs and through a few specialist food shops. But anyone who tastes a delicious spoonful of one of her preserves will soon realise why that jar of blackcurrant jam caused such a stir.

And fame won”t convince Sue that she has to start mass-producing her preserves. Things are staying just as they – and there aren”t even plans to buy a bigger jam pan!

Sue lives at Hutton Roof Hall, a beef and sheep farm, with her husband Richard and sons James and Peter. She began making marmalade when her children were young and sold it at the local WI market, which she still supplies. Over the years the hobby developed to include a large selection of chutneys, savoury jellies and pickles.

“Jam is something I only make when fruit is in season,” says Sue, who is still taken aback by winning such a prestigious award.

The jam range includes blackcurrant, raspberry, damson, plums and gooseberry. The winning blackcurrant – which had a deep, fruit flavour and perfect consistency – was made of fruit picked in a garden in the village.

Sue makes about 25 different marmalades including St Clements, Three-fruit, Thick-cut Seville, Grapefruit with ginger, Mandarin and Tropical fruit as well as Christmas Marmalade and a special festive recipe made with cranberries.

Sue”s preserves are a food experience not to be missed, but she acknowledges that jars of jams and marmalades aren”t to be found in as many kitchen cupboards as they used to be. And it is simply because they don”t “fit in” to modern eating habits.

“People don”t have jam and bread teas in the afternoon any more. For most people if jam and marmalade isn”t part of breakfast there is no way it fits in to the rest of the day”s eating.”

Sue reckons the secret of making good jam lies in having the fruit in the right condition. “If it isn”t right the jam won”t set. The longer you boil jam the more the colour deteriorates. And you can easily over-boil it.

“The fruit needs to be ripe, but not over-ripe. That is when the pectin is at exactly the right stage. And even oranges and lemons used for marmalade must not be past their best or the fruit won”t set because the pectin isn”t there.”

Boiling the fruit first, before any sugar is added, is essential for good jam making, says Sue. “Particularly with blackcurrants, you have to get the skins to soften by boiling. Once you add the sugar, you change the whole process and the fruit will gel.”

SPREADABLE

The consistency has to be exactly right, too. “My jam mustn”t be too stiff. I don”t want it to come out of the jar like a wedge; it has to be spreadable.”

Sue is always ready to experiment. Whenever she comes across a new or exotic fruit she can”t wait to see how it can be “jammed”.

Because she only made a small quantity of her award winning blackcurrant jam, she has no stock to supply the anticipated demand. Determined jam connoisseurs will have to track it down if they want to savour the delectable flavour of this preserve.

That may take quite a bit of detective work, but any jam sleuth will be more than handsomely rewarded if they are lucky enough to find this truly vintage preserve.

*Sue Prickett can supply preserves and special Christmas presentation packs by mail order. Phone 015242 71435.