I have fond memories of jam. Sweet, squishy and sticky; jam holds a certain nostalgic charm that hark back to the simplicity and innocence of childhood. Back then, I remember sitting on the front steps of our house watching the dogs play in the yard while eating a jam sandwich that I had made all by myself. You see, I was allowed to make my own jam sandwiches because they were the kind of snack you could make using a blunt knife. And seeing as that I was making this for myself, I would craftily make sure to spread extra lashings of jam on each slice so as to increase the jam to bread ratio. I would also take meticulous attention in spreading the jam all the way to the edges leaving no trace of the bread underneath. Once the other piece of bread was placed on top, I would get up on tip toes and with the palm of my hand press down on the two slices and with wide-eyed pleasure watch the excess jam drip down the sides of the sandwich. Once this happened, then I knew it was perfect.
The eating of the jam sandwich was no less tidy than the making of it; having to negotiate the jam drippings on the side, all the while attempting to take meaningful bites without getting squirts of jam all over yourself. No matter how much I tried to keep myself neat, there would always be the evidence of jam sandwich all over my mouth, hands and shirt. It was proof of a snack well made; every dribble, every spot was the mark of sweet gratification. A child’s mouth sullied with the remains of their meal, is one of the quintessential images of childhood. Fortunate are those kids allowed to eat with their hands and faces, bits of jam, honey and sticky fruit strew across their chubby faces.
For me jams, marmalades and preserves alike hold a certain sense of longing for simpler days; when a jam sandwich was equivalent to a warm hug from your grandmother. When playing on the streets were safe and you didn’t have to think twice before walking barefoot in the park; days where summers were filled with water fights and coming home everyday to a glass of Ribena. Luckily those kinds of days are not all lost.
So you can imagine how delighted I was to hear that Nicky of Delicious Days chose preserving fruit as the theme for this month’s SHF. Although I have always been fond of jam, the seemingly obvious progression to making my own jam sadly never arrived. By no means did I, until recently, entertain any thoughts of jam-making or fruit preservation. As a child pigging out on jam sandwiches and as an adult who loves her scones with jam, I sadly never gave a second thought to exactly how that jam came to be. If it weren’t for this SHF, the whole process of fruit preservation would have still eluded me. It was all too easy to go to the markets and pick out what flavour of jam I fancied and go home and enjoy it, sans any appreciation of the labour involved in making it.
Luckily I have been cured of my ignorance, and along that my curiosity satiated. And although my skill and flair for jam-making are yet to be refined, I think I faired well in this maiden attempt. For my first one I chose to make a Chilli Jam. I had always been fascinated by the breadth of flavours contained in chilli jams; the spiciness, sweetness and sourness all vying for attention in your mouth.
The taste was quite subtle at first. The first flavour to arouse your palate is the sweetness, I thought, perhaps I had put too much sugar, where did all the chilli go? However as the jam begins to infuse your tongue the spiciness eventually comes through. For the amount of chillies I used, the jam produced a mild spiciness- great for stir fries and soups. I assume that if you desire a hotter chilli jam you could increase the amount of chillies used or rather utilise a stronger chilli.
I also decided to make some fruit preserves- a Strawberry and Passionfruit Jam and a Papaya and Pineapple Preserve. I will not provide you the recipe for these two preserves as that the method I used was sort of a guerrilla/improv style of jam making. Toss in a few fruits here and there add some sugar and hope for the best. Now, I would not go out and recommend this style of jam making, especially when there are so many variables involved, it is best to stick to precise measurements. But because I never anticipated how much sugar you consume while making jam, I was running out. So to counter my low supplies, I decided to ration the remaining sugar evenly between the two and just add how much fruit I thought was appropriate for the amount of sugar. Like I mentioned, this is not the recommended way of making jam. If you are asking, what would Martha do? This is not what Martha would do.
Even so, with this ad-lib style of jam making, surprisingly enough the desired outcome was achieved. The Strawberry and Passionfruit had a beautiful combination of sweetness and tartness, the vibrant red colour with little flecks of passionfruit seeds throughout the jam was absolutely stunning. It was like staring into a jar of rubies, the colour was so consuming. I would recommend spreading some of this jam generously across some toast or some scones or even into a Bakewell Tart.
The Papaya and Pineapple was a tropical taste sensation. Although the preserve was slightly cloying (must have been those improvised measurements) the papaya and pineapple flavours were not lost in the sweetness. Although I used more papaya, the overriding flavour was still the pineapple. To offset the sweetness I mixed a spoonful of it with some of my favourite yoghurt and this does the trick. The yoghurt’s tartness and the preserve's sweetness is just the perfect balance. Which is essentially, what I think great food is- a well balanced equation of flavours.
I found that that I really loved the quaint and rustic nature of the process of fruit preservation. Its creation requires your full attention, and I think when you are given a pot of homemade jam as a gift, you know that there is a lot of love involved; love in the giving and in the making. I can see why some people’s most cherished memories of jam are of their mother or grandmothers stirring a pot of jam over a hot stove.
Whatever jam, marmalade or preserve it is, make sure you spread generously. Life is too short to skimp on good jam.
200g large red chillies
200g red onions
300g granulated caster sugar
200g grated palm sugar
2 tbsp tamarind sauce
1 tsp salt
Sterilise bottles and lids in boiling water for 10 minutes. Air-dry the bottles and lids completely. Slice the chillies into discs and dice onions. Place all ingredients into a heavy based saucepan over medium to high heat. Boil mixture until the sugar becomes of a thick consistency.
THNGS TO NOTE:
Be attentive, do not burn the sugar, doing this will cause the jam to set to a toffee-like hardness. If this does occur, there is nothing much you can do to salvage the jam. Make sure if you do overcook the jam that you do not go ahead and place them into the jars. Just give up and try again as it will be very difficult to get the hard jam/toffee out of the jar once you have put it in.
A good way to test whether the jam is at setting consistency is to take a small dollop of jam and drop it on a clean plate. Place it in the refrigerator for a minute or two and see whether the mixture has set. If it has, then the jam is ready to be taken off the heat.
If you do not want seeds in your jam, an easy way to get rid off the seeds is to simly crush the fruit and put it through a sieve.
If you do choose to use pectin, be very careful as not to burn the mixture. Use a thermometer to be exact as pectic can be sensitive when exposed to excessive heat and stir continuously.
To keep with the rustic nature of these jams and preserves, I chose to make handmade labels. All you need is some card, some string and a nice felt pen. Just use your imagination and label away!