I always take a backpack when cycling along Suffolk lanes. You never know what you might find for sale on the side of the road.
My favourite stall is in Sotterley, where in summer you can find a little round table covered with a freshly-laundered white cloth and a range of homemade preserves. They have quirky and inspiring names like ‘Medallion” Organic Red Gooseberry Jam or “Anytime Breakfast” Orange and Lemon Marmalade. Best of all they are not hard set like commercial jams but quivery with fruit and good enough to eat by the spoonful as well as on buttered toast.
This silky, bursting-with-fruit texture is not always easy to achieve. Testing a bit of your jam on a saucer, you’ll know it’s ready when the surface wrinkles. That’s the time to remove it from the heat, otherwise you’ll sacrifice both flavour and colour and you may as well go out and buy one from a certain Essex company that shall remain nameless.
My parents had a greengage tree in their garden – before the great storm of 1987 sent it crashing down inches from the house. The tree was huge and produced many pounds of hard green fruit which my mother dutifully preserved in kilner jars or boiled down with sugar during her annual jam-making ritual. Despite the shiniest of jam jars topped with gleaming cellophane and beautifully handwritten labels, the sludgy green contents never looked tempting and there was always a stray stone to catch you unawares. I’m ashamed to admit, in those days it never felt as exotic as the luridly bright strawberry jam from the local co-op.
The Sotterley preserves are sold in aid of the tiny mortuary chapel in the village, built by the Barne family of Sotterley Hall in 1883 so that coffins would not have to be transported to the churchyard, a mile or so from the main road.
The Sotterley Chapel Preservation Trust was formed – patron: Geoffrey Munn of Antiques Roadshow – when the chapel was threatened with demolition. The chapel is now used regularly for events and much loved as the jam stall proves.