Bitter with bits in: my ideal marmalade

IMG_2247When I was growing up marmalade meant one thing: a citrussy concoction with bits of peel in it, related to jam but somehow more complicated in flavour and less obviously sweet. It was also one of the only things my father ever cooked – it still is – and although he comes up with all sorts of variations on the theme, one or more members of the citrus family are always the star ingredients, and perfectly sliced peel an essential element. I think this is generally the case in the UK today, though the earliest origins of the name lie with a smooth Portuguese quince concoction and over centuries the word has applied itself to many different kinds of fruit jam in other European countries (for full marmalade history and lots of recipes see my friend Elizabeth Field’s wonderful work).

Of course I am so conditioned by citrus that oranges are always the first fruit that spring to mind when I read the word, and I’ve been reading it a lot recently as I continue my pursuit of Charles Fourier’s gastrosophic (or truly gastronomic) vision – and his sweet tooth. Fourier seems to love marmelades, and constantly suggests them as one of the ideal and economical foods of Harmony, especially for women and children. The Néo-Physiologie du Gout par Ordre Alphabétique (1839) confirms that in France in this period a marmelade was simply the type of jam that uses the whole of the fruit, as opposed to a jelly, made with only the juice. Its marmelade section discusses everything but citrus, and although there is a brief, all inclusive description of citrus marmelade under the citron entry, this requires passing the cooked peel through a sieve to produce a smooth preparation – sacrilege on my breakfast table!

Although I know some people chop their marmalade peel finely with a food processor, and Fourier himself was expecting an un-bitty preserve, I’m afraid I simply can’t bring myself to make you a puréed or strained marmalade, especially not while Seville oranges are in season. You can click here for a basic recipe for a very British orange marmalade, passing on as many tips from my father as I could glean. It might not be what Fourier had in mind for his Harmonians, but as far as I’m concerned it brings you as close as you can get to marmalade perfection.

Damson Chutney

IMG_1487Damsons are the most delicious plum to cook with. Sharp and deeply flavoured, in my opinion they make the very best chutney you can eat, and the strongest flavoured plum jam. I was overjoyed to find them in my local Borough Market a few years ago – but not so overjoyed by the exorbitant price. So, imagine my delight when a late summer walk in Kent revealed damson trees galore! Every one of them was groaning with fruit, they were all on public footpaths: these were rich pickings. I suppose they must be remnants of the days when all of Kent was covered in orchards.

IMG_0555In full sunshine the fruit gleams an almost blue purple; once in my city kitchen they take on a deeper hue, with a gorgeous bloom. Inside, the fruit is a yellowish-green colour. The plums are small and firm, with flesh sticking to the stone even when fully ripe, so a lot of recipes advise cooking them before removing the stones. If you are simply stewing them for a dessert, I’d go along with this, but for any preserving I prefer to take the time to stone them first. I hate the mess and waste of fishing them out of a sticky jam or chutney. Perhaps I’m weird, but I find that just me, a knife and a big bowl of damsons sitting somewhere comfortable can turn into quite a pleasantly meditative task. If you can persuade someone to help you, all the better.

Recipe

I always make as much of this as I can as I know I’ll eat it all, as well as lose a few jars to friends and family. You can adapt the quantities directly to however many damsons you have – just watch the cooking time if you are making a different sized batch (less time for smaller, more for bigger). My version has evolved out of the classic Delia Smith plum chutney recipe in her Complete Cookery Course of 1985 (that’s the year of my copy – it was first published 1978).

Ingredients
Damson picked1.5kg (3lb 5oz) damsons, stoned and halved or quartered
3 large onions, chopped
500g (1 lb) Bramley (cooking) apples, cored and chopped
500g (1 lb) raisins or other seedless dried fruit
500g (1 lb) muscovado (dark soft brown) sugar
500g (1 lb) Demerara (granulated golden) sugar
1. 5 l (50 fl oz) malt vinegar
4 cloves garlic
2.5cm (1 inch) piece ginger, peeled and grated
2 tbsp salt
Tied into a small piece of muslin:
1 tbsp cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 blade mace
20 peppercorns
25g (1oz) allspice (pimento) berries
½ dried chilli

IMG_1186Method
Put everything into a large, preserving pan*, slowly bring to the boil, then simmer very gently for around 2-2½ hours, stirring occasionally to check how it is coming along and to prevent it sticking to the pan. It will continue cooking as it cools down, so don’t go too far, but do make sure that most of the vinegar has disappeared and it has a nice gloopy consistency.

Pour into sterilised jars while still warm, seal well making sure there is no contact with any metal, cool and label. Leave to mature in a cool dark cupboard for at least 2 months before eating.IMG_1482

*The point of a preserving pan is its extra-wide top – this makes the evaporation go faster and reduces cooking time. If you are using a narrower pan it will take longer.

Fresh jam – plum, peach, raspberry and rosemary

IMG_2634I don’t know why I never used to think of making jam in small quantities. It’s such obvious instant gratification! You can make something delicious and seasonal just a jar at a time, eat it up in a week or two, and then make some more. It’s faster and more efficient to cook, and since you’ll eat it quickly the recipe allows you to use less sugar.

Of course, stocking up the store cupboard with the bounty of summer and autumn to enjoy on a gloomy winter’s day does have its attractions, but sometimes a project that channels a little less of the inner squirrel is required. For me, that moment came at the end of the summer in Paris. Some Reine Claude plums were so perfectly ready to eat that they didn’t make it back from the market in very good shape. There were two abandoned apricots in the fridge. A rosemary bush waved from the window box. I craved jam. And that was it. Less than twenty minutes later there was a jar of golden sweetness ready for my breakfast; less than two weeks (and one visitor) later, it was all gone and the trick has just been repeated with some raspberries and a scarlet-fleshed peach.

This jam is not designed to keep for more than a week or two, is best made in a small quantity, and should be stored in the fridge, especially if you are in a warm place. This brings freedom for all of us – you can be approximate with quantities and speedy in your cooking, I can be very approximate with my instructions, and nobody has to clean out the store-cupboard to make room for yet another jar.

Recipe

I like my jam not too sweet, with a little sharpness added or the natural sharpness in the fruit enhanced. If you like it sweeter, reduce or eliminate the lemon juice. Note that this will reduce the amount of pectin and acid in the jam so it will be a bit runnier.

Adding herbs is a really lovely way of including a little hint of an extra mystery flavour – but leave it out if you think it’s a bit too weird! I particularly like rosemary with plum, and lavender with apricot. Let me know if you have any other favourite combinations!

Ingredients
1 cup roughly chopped plums
2 roughly chopped apricots
Juice of ½ a lemon
¾ cup sugar
1 sprig rosemary (optional)

OR

1½  cups raspberries
1 peeled and roughly chopped peach or nectarine
Juice of ½ a lemon
1 cup sugar
1 sprig rosemary (optional)

Method
IMG_2651Put everything in a small saucepan. If you have time, allow it to sit there for at least an hour so that the fruit starts to dissolve the sugar and flavours start to meld. If you don’t have time, it doesn’t matter, you’ll just have to heat the mixture up more slowly while stirring it to be sure that all the sugar dissolves.

IMG_2640When you are ready, bring the jam (slowly) to the boil, skim off any froth, and simmer for 5–7 minutes. When a small drip spooned on a cold plate isn’t too runny and is starting to set, pour into a cleaned and sterilised jar* and seal. Once cool, store in the fridge and eat within a few weeks.

* This can be done either by pouring boiling water into the jar, tipping out and allowing it to dry, or by heating in the oven.

Bramble (blackberry) chutney

IMG_1503The only blackberries that really taste of anything are the ones you find in the hedgerow in late summer and early autumn. They are usually much smaller than the ones in the supermarket punnets, but their flavour is intense. When I was little we’d spend weekend after weekend filling buckets with fruit from the fields and canal-side near our house. My mother would feed us delicious pies, tarts and crumbles, and I’d help her make huge supplies of bramble jellies and jams. I don’t ever remember bramble chutney featuring on the menu then (rhubarb chutney was more her thing), but if you have a lot of fruit it’s really worth making. Incredibly, the blackberry flavour really shines through all the other intense tastes.

Ingredients
IMG_05201.25kg (2¾lb) blackberries
400g (14oz) apple, cored and chopped
400g (14oz) onion, peeled and chopped
12g (½oz) salt
25g (1oz) dried mustard powder
25g (1oz) dried ginger
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mace powder
scant ½ tsp cayenne pepper
450ml (18 fl oz) vinegar
400g (14oz) brown sugar

Method
Place the blackberries, apple and onion in a medium sized pan, cover, heat and cook gently for about 45-60 minutes, until a large amount of juice has been released and the apple and onion is soft and pulpy. Press the mixture through a sieve (not too fine) into a large preserving pan, getting as much through as possible but leaving the blackberry pips behind. Add all of the other ingredients to this puree and gently bring up to a boil, stirring often to ensure that the sugar is fully dissolved. Simmer steadily for about 20 minutes or until thickened and ready to bottle – it doesn’t take so long as some other chutneys as the fruit is already cooked. Spoon into sterilised jars*, seal well, cool, label and store in a dark cupboard for one month before using.

*Although a lot of the vinegar is evaporated out of a chutney, if you are planning to keep it for any length of time remember to ensure that any metal lids are well sealed, or have a layer of plastic between them and the jar’s contents, as eventually the vinegar will start to corrode them.

Apricot chutney with a touch of wild cherry

IMG_1014Almost all the chutney I make ends up looking a dark brownish black, mainly because it is made with dark fruit and/or dark brown sugar. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does mean that even though the different versions might taste different, they do all tend to look the same.  This time, I was holiday just at the moment of an apricot glut, and I knew I wanted to somehow make sure I didn’t lose that rich orange glow. I couldn’t resist adding some tiny wild bird cherries I’d found drying on the ground under an old tree, and crossed my fingers that their dark red wouldn’t bleed out into the rest of the mixture. The gamble paid off. Besides showcasing a fruit I love, the apricot, this chutney also makes a nice change on the colour front: it’s a gorgeous deep orange, and tastes just as good as it looks.

Recipe

I don’t think you necessarily have to be too precise with chutney recipes. I usually weigh everything quite carefully, but I made this when on holiday and without scales, and the rough proportions worked out using an old teacup turned out just fine.

Ingredients
IMG_10095 cups apricots, stoned and cut into 8-10 pieces each
1 cup brown sugar
1 medium onion, chopped
¾ cups dried fruit like cherries or raisins
1 tbsp salt
1 cup vinegar
3 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
Tied into a small piece of muslin:
2 sprigs fresh coriander seeds, or 10 dried coriander seeds
1½  cm stick of cinnamon
1 blade of mace
10 peppercorns
2 bayleaves
½ – 1 dried chilli, to taste

Method
IMG_1012Place all of the prepared ingredients in a large non-stick pan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring as you do so to make sure the sugar is dissolved and nothing is sticking. Once it reaches a boil, lower the heat and keep it cooking at a steady low simmer. It will start to thicken, and big fat bubbles will start to burst occasionally on the surface.  Depending on the quantity in the pan and your speed of cooking, you’ll need to simmer it for about 20-30 minutes. You’ll know it is done when it has thickened up and a spoon run across the surface leaves a mark for a few seconds and doesn’t instantly fill with vinegar. Try not to overcook it, as I think this makes the end result too sweet, as well as making it too thick once it has aged.

Once it is ready, pour into prepared sterilised jars, seal for long storage* and label. It will need to sit in the cupboard for at least a month before you taste it. I usually refrigerate a jar once it has been opened, though this might not be necessary.

 

*Although a lot of the vinegar is evaporated out of a chutney, if you are planning to keep it for any length of time remember to ensure that any metal lids are well sealed, or have a layer of plastic between them and the jar’s contents, as eventually the vinegar will start to corrode them.

Fresh apricot jam

IMG_1046
A good ripe apricot is one of the joys of summer, but a woolly one is one of its cruellest disappointments. Living in central London means I am at the mercy of the fruit-sellers, and at best I only have a 50/50 chance of getting a good one. So, whenever I find myself in a place where an apricot tree is just one of those standard things you can expect to find in any field or garden, I get a bit over-excited. Which happened when I stayed at a friend’s house with a wonderful old garden in the hills behind Nice in the south of France. It was the end of the season so there were just a few remnants of the apricot harvest left. They were small, a bit lumpy, and covered in marks: they would never have made it through the beauty competition that would admit them to the market stall or supermarket shelf back home. But the flavour! Sweet yet sharp, with a hint of bitterness, they were terrific raw. But they were quite crisp, and weren’t going to improve with age, so I decided to make some jam. Overwhelmed with the scents and romance of the place, I added some lavender. Apricot jam has never tasted so good.

Recipe

This recipe makes a small quantity. This is deliberate, as I like to reduce both the amount of sugar used and the cooking time, making a fresher, sharper jam. However, this also means that it does not keep nearly as well as something more cooked and/or with higher sugar content. I recommend keeping the jar in the fridge and using within a few weeks.

Ingredients
1kg fresh apricots
750g sugar
Juice of 1-2 lemons, to taste
5-10 flowering stalks of lavender, to yield a handful of flowers

Method
Tear the apricots in half, remove the stones and set 2 or three of them aside, and tear the apricots into smaller pieces according to preference (my apricots were small so I tore them into quarters), Put them in a bowl with the sugar, the juice of at least half a lemon and the lavender flowers, cover, and leave at room temperature for up to a day and at least overnight. The apricots will start to ooze their juice and dissolve the sugar, making a delicious and sweet smelling gloop.

Meanwhile, take your apricot stones outside and hit them with something heavy, protecting your eyes and fingers as you do so. The stone will split, revealing the little nut-like kernel inside. Remove the kernel and set aside. If you smash the kernel along with the stone try another one – you want to keep them whole and their thin almond-like skin unbroken.

When you are ready to finish the jam, prepare a suitable storage jar either by heating in the oven or scalding with boiling water to sterilise. Transfer the apricot mixture to a large saucepan and heat gently, stirring to make sure all the sugar is dissolved, then boil for 7-10 minutes so that the jam thickens and is just beginning to set. You might need to skim a little white scum from the edges of the pan as it cooks.

Pour the jam into the prepared jar, drop in a kernel or two, and seal. Once cool, store in the fridge.