Saturday, August 07, 2021

Weekend Cooking: Life Lessons in Jam Making

Australian author Josephine Moon has several books where the titles suggest that they would work well for a Weekend Cooking post (The Cakemakers Wish, The Chocolate Promise, The Beekeepers Secret), and she also shares a number of recipes on her website. Despite this, I hadn't read any of her books.  When her latest book, The Jam Queens, came out earlier this year, I was determined that this was the one that I was going to read, so I pre-ordered it on Audible. The only problem with that strategy is that I just can't  seem to find any time to listen to audiobooks right now. I was enjoying what I did get to listen to, but it was taking a long time to get through the book. In the end, I decided to swap to a library book. I was glad to finish reading it as I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Agatha lives in a small town near Adelaide where she runs a cafe. Ever since she became a single parent at a very young age, or maybe even before, she has had a difficult relationship with her mother Valeria. Her great aunt Myrtle was her saviour when she was a teenager and they continue to have a close relationship. Now, that child, Holly,  is a teacher who lives in the US, but who is home for a holiday.

Each of the women has their own struggles and fears. For Aggie, she has issues with the building her cafe is in and she has a very important decision to make in relation to eggs that she currently has frozen after unsuccessful IVF cycles with her former partner Gideon. Valeria is keeping an important secret from her whole family, Myrtle is concerned about what is happening with her best friend and life long travelling companion, Dolce, and Holly just doesn't seem to be herself at the moment.

The four women agree to go on a trip on the iconic Ghan train which travels from Darwin to Adelaide to celebrate Valeria's 70th birthday. Along the way they visit some amazing places like Uluru and Coober Pedy and experience the magic of the outback.  Secrets are revealed, decisions are made, relationships are formed, and adventures are had, and ultimately, lives are changed - not necessarily in that order.

I loved the travel and food parts of this book. We have talked about doing the Ghan journey, and this book made me want to experience it for myself. Reading the section where one of the characters does a day excursion to Uluru brought back memories of when we visited Uluru earlier this year, and enjoyed an amazing dinner out under the outback skies. They also visited Coober Pedy, which is a town that I have long had on my bucket list. It is famous for being an opal mining town where people live in underground caves. Sounds like an amazing place.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and now I do need to go back and read some of Josephine Moon's other books!

The reason that the book is called The Jam Queens is that Aggie, Valeria and Myrtle all make prize winning jams. Each year, one of the women nominates that they will be the person to enter the competition at the Royal Adelaide Show each year so that they don't compete against each other, and that there is a greater chance that they will win each year. There are a number of flavours mentioned in the book. The one that I would really like to try was peach, raspberry and champagne jam. There was also a couple of interesting suggestions for ways to use jam including making a jamtini (recipe here) or making a hot chocolate, then adding a dash of Baileys with a spoonful of jam! Not something I had heard of before.

I have only made a couple of small batches of jam for specific recipes including for Jam Drops and Mini Strawberry tarts. I have also made delicious lemon curd before too. This book did have me contemplating whether I might have a go at making more. I don't have jars etc, but I would only be making small batches I am sure. I did make the Mini Strawberry Tarts again last weekend or should I say Strawberry and Blueberry Tarts.

The word jam is another example of one of those words where there are different words for similar things around the world. When I was growing up, if we bought a jar of fruit conserve I imagined that it has more fruit than a jar of jam, and in my mind jelly (as in what is used in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches) has even less bits of fruit in it.

I thought I would share one of the many sections of the book that I found myself bookmarking as shareable!

This is Valeria remembering a particular moment with her daughter.

As the heat from the dryer began to warm her legs, she cast her mind back to a day when her daughter was probably around ten years old. Agatha was sitting in the kitchen, watching her gingerbread biscuits bake in the oven, the heat radiating into the room, while outside winter cold had set in, the trees bowing in the wind and tossing branches to the ground.

Valeria has her bottled jams lined up on the wooden benchtop and was comparing the information she had written on sticky notes that were placed on top of each with regard to the visual appearance of the contents. She was attempting to decide which jams from which batches were the ones to enter in the show. Every batch came out a little differently, and once they were bottled it wasn't as easy to assess them. But the jam had to be bottled immediately, and once the lid was on she couldn't open it again to test. She only had her notes to go on.

"Hmm," she murmured, pulling out a jar and bringing it to the front of the line. "This one, I think." She pulled out another. Bending down so the jars were at eye level, she studied them. The one on the left was slightly darker in colour, which wasn't necessarily a problem, but the strawberry seeds had clumped in a few spots, and an uneven distribution would go against her. She consulted the notes she'd written. Really good jam, rich flavour, perfect amount of lemon. She clicked her tongue and compared it to the jar on the right, which had a lovelier visual appearance, but for which her notes said, Good jam, but maybe not a champion?

"What's the matter?" Agatha asked, swivelling sideways in her chair and swinging a leg about.

"Sit up straight, sweetheart," Valeria said automatically.

Agatha did as she was told but rolled her eyes slightly.

"No eyerolls," she reminded her daughter. It was becoming a habit, one she didn't want to see continue. Agatha sucked on her cheeks instead.

"This jam," Valeria said, pointing to the one on her left, "tastes the best but isn't as pretty as this one," she said, pointing to the other.

Agatha screwed up her nose. "Why does it matter what it looks like? You only eat and it gets all mixed up in your belly." She pushed her long hair out of her face, irritated by it.

"A perfect jam needs to be perfect in every way - how it looks, how it tastes, it can't be too firm or too runny, it can't be overcooked or burnt, the jar must pop perfectly when its opened, the label must be positioned exactly, the poured quantity must be within millimetres of the required distance from the top, there should be no splatter of jam, it should smell fresh and fruity. It should not be too sweet or too sour, and it absolutely must not have any jam setter in it."

Agatha widened her eyes. "Who cares about all that?"

"We do," Valeria said, gravely. "Because we value standards and excellence. The competition assessment criteria are there to uphold a respect for quality that is so lacking these days. These competitions are the eye in the storm in a decaying society."


"If we don't strive to be the best, if we let everything go, if we don't care, then where does it stop?"

Agatha stared at her blankly, pulling up her knees so that her feet were resting on the chair, and wrapping her arms around her legs.

"You must always do your best," Valeria said, and she saw this as one of her greatest teaching moments. Through the power of jam competition, she could teach her daughter to never give up, to constantly strive for better, to lose and win gracefully, to keep going no matter how stiff the competition or how high the odds to win, to respect authority, to follow the rules.

"They should teach this at school," she said, absent-mindedly.


"How to make jam," Valeria said, returning to her notes. "There are so many life lessons in jam making."

Weekly Meals

Saturday - Butter chicken, broccoli, rice, roti

Sunday- Scrambled Eggs on toast

Monday- Pork Stir Fry


Wednesday  - Chicken Enchilada

Thursday- Nasi Goreng

Friday - Takeaway

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page


  1. This is a new to me author -- but I really like the passage you shared. I love books that make me want to travel and make me want to cook -- this one has both!

  2. I like the idea of a jam queen, but I would nominate for the best and most imaginative jam recipes.

    best… mae at

    1. Thanks for the now following!

    2. There are definitely some interesting jam flavours at Eliots Eats.

  3. I’ll see if I can find this author here or on Netgalley. There are many Australian authors I read about on blogs which I have trouble finding. This one sounds great too.
    Love the jam and eat lemon curd. Big fan of lemon anything.

    1. I have a lot of lemons right now! This weekend we made lemon curd and I made a delicious lemon cake! More about that in the next couple of weeks.

  4. I'm not familiar with the author but based on what you shared, I probably would enjoy it. My mother on law makes strawberry jam and it's delicious.

    1. I should try making the jam as per the recipe instead of making strawberry and blueberry!

  5. This whole series sounds like a fun read, I too love the combination of family/life/food!

    1. What's not to love about family, life and food!

  6. Where to start? I had looked at the Ghan train ride but it seemed really expensive, maybe I should look at it again. Loved Coober Pedy, but John hated the underground hotel, he got so claustrophobic he spent some of the night outside and we had to move to an above ground room the next night!! Bought an opal bracelet there that I wear all the time.
    I've made jams in small batches, on the stove and in my breadmaker.
    Scrambled eggs on toast sounds good.

    1. The expense is part of the reason we haven't done the Ghan yet, but I hope to one day! Coober Pedy is definitely on my bucket list!