Jam, eh? That red, runny stuff you slap on your toast of a morning or, if you’re feeling adventurous, shove in your Victoria sponge.

Except that it’s not, not to Mel Sellings who, when she’s not working at a gym in Swanage, is leading her other life as The Jammy Bodger; preserve-maker extraordinaire.

To Mel jam is a world of medlars and quinces, of chocolate crab-apple cake, sloe jelly, ‘vibrant’ red plums, ‘bitter, chunky’ blood orange, pink grapefruit and Seville orange marmalade, ‘fruity sweetness’ and, maybe, gooseberry jam ‘swirled into meringue mixture’ or icing for good measure.

“I love making Jammy Bodger biscuits,” she enthuses, describing how she bakes a batch of vanilla biccies before spreading them with jam and butter icing before slapping another on top: “Delicious!” Or there’s her coconut or almond jammy slices. Or her habit of stirring jam into hot water to make a fruit drink.

Blackcurrant jam is her favourite. And plum. But you have to do it right. “You can’t make it from frozen plums, it’s as if you’ve killed something in it, it goes a dark brown instead of a vibrant red,” she says. “If I’m going to a taste test and people say they don’t like jam I find you can usually convert them with a dollop of plum or blackcurrant.”

Mel got the jam bug a few years ago while she and her partner, Steve, lived in London. “I was already making elderflower cordial from wildflowers and where we used to pick them near the trainline in Wandsworth there were all these blackberry bushes.”

She got picking and decided to give jam-making a whirl. “My first batch wasn’t the most successful; I attempted to sterilise my jars with the labels on and the whole thing turned grey,” she says.

But Mel persevered on her preserves, becoming confident enough to give her jams and chutneys as Christmas presents before writing a book because, after trying to make 60 jars a day, she realised she actually wanted to invent recipes, not become ‘a production line’.

“So I wrote my book because I want readers to make the jam not me,” she says. More than one-and-a-half thousand readers later she found herself a leading light in the jam community and wound up with a following on Facebook and Twitter.

And that’s when she discovered the dark side of the world of confiture...

“I’d joined a jam chat on Twitter – people pose questions and I was answering them,” she says.

“I’d start answering then I’d get walloped by one of the jam mafia who’d say stuff like ‘that’s not acceptable, your jam won’t keep’ even when the question was about sugar levels, not keeping.”

The ‘jam mafia’ – who mainly sound like disgruntled older ladies – are also snippy about runniness: “We’re not supposed to allow the British jam to go the way of the French runny jam,” Mel says. “They want one that looks perfect on the spoon and clear like a jelly. It might taste rubbish but we don’t care.”

Fighting talk indeed, as are Mel’s views on marmalade.

“If you make your own you can have the sugar level exactly what you want, you can have skins or sieve them out, it doesn’t matter,” she says.

“I have mine chunky and bitter but you don’t have to do that, you don’t even have to use Seville oranges.”

This, apparently, could be a sacrilege on Planet Marmalade.

But why should Mel care when she’s won gold at The World’s Original Marmalade Awards? This year she snaffled silver in the Seville Medium Cut category and bronze for her citrus three-fruiter.

“I kind of feel vindicated with my recipes now,” she says, rootling through her cupboards to get me some medlar jam.

I’ve no idea what a medlar is. But I’m guessing it will taste gorgeous.

  • thejammybodger.me.uk