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With the entries rolling in for our new Preserves with Passion competition, a unique quest to find the finest home-made jams, jellies, and chutneys in the south east, here three leading local food experts share their insider advice on creating the perfect preserves...

John 'Bartie' Bartlett (chair of the judges),
Bartie's Sussex Faire,
Ardingly, Sussex

1) Always add a little lemon juice to the fruit: 15ml to 25ml per kilo. It enhances the natural fruit flavours once cooked.
2) Check the natural pectin levels in the fruit to ensure there's enough to set the jam, adding some apple pectin if needed to avoid over-boiling the jam, which would ruin the fruitiness. Remember that older fruit and overripe fruit will have less pectin than fresh fruit in perfect condition.
3) If reusing jars, check the seal on the lid and only use if the seal is in good condition to reduce the risk of mould growing. Remember to sterilise both the jar and lid and avoid touching any inside part of lid or jar before filling and sealing. Also, avoid using jars that previously contained vinegar-based products – the seal on the lid will have taken on the vinegar flavour.

Andrew Maxwell,
Principal and managing director,
Tante Marie Culinary Academy,
Woking, Surrey

1) The number one priority in preserving is retention of flavour. Pick the best produce in season; if it's poor to begin with, the end product will be poor. Warming the sugar in a metal bowl in a cool oven before adding it to the pan will mean the sugar dissolves faster, less cooking is required and it will help to retain more flavour.
2) Put some plates in the fridge before you start cooking, so they are already chilled when you come to test the set. That way, you won't have to wait as long for the preserve to cool before testing it. It should wrinkle on the surface when you draw a finger through it.
3) While you are testing the set, take the pan off the heat, so it is not still cooking (and potentially overcooking) while testing.

Tracy Carroll,
Local Food Britain,
Covering London and the south east

1) Make the most of fresh local produce, either from your garden, the allotment or out and about in the countryside. With the bumper season we're enjoying this year, the hedgerows are overflowing with beautiful blackberries at the moment - and my own crab apple tree at home is brimming with fruit. What could be a nicer than bottling up a taste of Surrey sunshine?
2) Don't be afraid to be creative with your recipe. For example, perhaps you could use some herbs or spices to really bring alive the fruit in your chutney. It's always nice to see something a little bit different.
3) Finally, remember that the judges will be looking at presentation as well so be sure to think about the overall look of the finished product. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but ideally it will be something attractive that would grace a dining table or bring joy to a breakfast tray.

Need to know:

The Preserves with Passion awards will take place at the Festival of Fine Food & Drink on at G Live in Guildford on Sunday September 10 from 11am to 4pm. To enter the awards, simply complete the online form. Entries will need to be taken to the Preserves with Passion area at G Live by 2pm at the latest. The judges will meet after the event and winners will be announced a few days later. As well as John 'Bartie' Bartlett, the judging panel will include director of Local Food Britain, Tracy Carroll, and G Live’s own chef Martin Pearce. For more information, see here.

Tags: food and drink chutney competition jams preserves