Tuesday, 15 October 2013

the pleasure of jam + diana henry's apricot and vanilla jam

the beginnings of apricot and vanilla jam

o has taken to teasing me about my jam making. he says given a chance, i will make jam out of everything. i am a small batch preserver and ironically he is the one who eats it in copious amounts, stirred through yoghurt or spread on buttered toast. 

it was not always like this.

mama has been making jam since i was a little girl. every time someone travels back and
forth between islamabad and london, i receive a jar or two of jam carefully swathed with duct tape and wrapped in plastic to prevent accidents in transit. over the last two years (and depending on seasons) i have received bottles of strawberry jam laced with gulkand (rose petal preserve) or boiled with red wine, mulberry with orange zest and in winter, my favourite; a thick cut kinoo marmalade with an easy consistency. when i would run out bonne maman would reappear on the kitchen counter.
it was an afternoon with diana henry and her salt sugar smoke that gave me the confidence to start preserving. the first jam i ever made was her purple fig and pomegranate one. since then there have been petite jars of strawberry with rosewater and peach and rhubarb infused with cardamom. last winter i made a batch of burnt amber coloured seville marmalade with gin and rosemary, a bright blood orange and a honey coloured grapefruit marmalade laced with vodka. a ‘screwdriver’ jam if you please. 

to make jam and chutney is to preserve seasons in a bottle. it is to experience spring and summer on short, dark winter days. strawberry jam is the spirit of summer. it is the memory of the first time i ate strawberries in islamabad. mama and baba took my brother and i to a farm where we picked them. we ate plenty with cream and when we could eat no more mama made jam to preserve them. 

peach jam calls forth the memory of an ice cold peach eaten near a fast running stream in swat. i must have been eight or nine and will never forget the intense sharp and tart sweetness of the peach and the feeling of its juices on my hands. nor the blue and red diamond check patterned sweater that mama dressed me in. she would buy those sweaters at the friday afghan market that was a curious assortment of afghan handicrafts – the trademark herat glass in colours of lapis and turquoise, silver bracelets and pendants, rugs suspended from ropes and racks of sweaters. the sweaters were very warm but quite prickly and hairy which did not endear them to me. i remember that the peach made my hands sticky which attracted the hair from the sweater making me quite cross. 

this sunday, i opened a jar of diana henry's apricot and vanilla jam that i had made in august. sunday was grey, rainy and cold and desperately in need of some sunshine. the apricot jam did just that simply because the bare flavoured european apricot had transformed itself into something quite like the pakistani one. a pakistani apricot has a dainty fuzz of hair and smells of blossoms and sweetness. the ones i get in london are rose tinted, smooth skin and usually flavourless. every year i buy a punnet in yearning only to be disappointed. 

but i also know that fruit that fails to realise its full potential almost always responds to heat and sugar, and jam making is a confluence of that. one starts by soaking the apricots overnight stirred with sugar, the juice of a lemon and a split vanilla pod to release a myriad fleck of seeds. the sugar draws honey coloured juices from the apricots. the next day the fruit is brought to a gentle boil encouraging the sugar to dissolve and the apricots to stew. after twenty minutes the heat is cranked up and the jam boils furiously – hissing and spitting its way to setting point. 

what emerges is a soft set whole fruit jam with a distinct vanilla flavour. it is a far cry from the uber sweet and over set mitchell’s apricot jam i ate as a child. it is the kind of jam that i think everyone needs to have hidden in their kitchen cupboard. its sunflower colour and sweetness is ample enough to lift winter sadness. 

{apricot and vanilla jam} 

one kg apricots 
six hundred grams jam sugar 
the juice of a lemon 
one plump vanilla bean 

try to get firm apricots, checking their skins for any bruises. i find that the soft fruits disintegrate. the beauty of this jam are the whole halves of apricot and you will lose that if the fruit is soft. 

wash the apricots gently and then halve and stone them. place them in a large bowl along with the sugar and lemon juice. split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds. add these along with the pod to the bowl. gently stir the contents of the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave them to macerate overnight. 

the next day, place the contents of the bowl in a heavy bottomed pan and cook over low heat for around twenty minutes. then turn up the heat and bring the jam to setting point. if using the jam thermometre the setting point is one hundred and four point five degrees celsius. alternatively use the wrinkle test. if you are a first time jam maker and a bit nervous read at gloria nicol’s jam making tips plus andy connelly’s science and magic of jam-making. 

allow the jam to cool for around seven to ten minutes before bottling as this allows for the fruit to be evenly distributed. i sterilise jars by washing them with really hot water and placing them in the oven at one hundred and forty degrees celsius for thirty minutes. i also use circles of greaseproof paper to line the lids before screwing them on tightly.

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