Judging by the variety of gourmand fragrances, the kitchen is a terrific source of inspiration for perfumers, and the exchange happens the other way too. A perfumer turns to vanilla to round out a composition, and if you’re in doubt how to jazz up your dessert, try this familiar sweet note. Vanilla is versatile enough to play along side many different ingredients, but it pairs especially well with stone fruit. This was my thinking as I simmered plums with sugar and a generous dose of vanilla in an impromptu jam I had to devise with a surfeit of damsons. I splashed it over the bubbling jam so liberally that the kitchen was filled with vanilla scented steam within seconds.
The jam was very good, and my husband pronounced it the best plum jam he has tried, but I felt that something was missing. The sweetness of vanilla and plums was rich and deep, but I wished there was more bite and sparkle. When I returned to the kitchen for one more experiment, I added lemon zest and nutmeg towards the end, and the spicy-citrusy twist completed the picture. Now, this jam was not only perfumed as well as something from Serge Lutens, but it was also richly flavored.
Out of all jams that I make, this is the most straightforward. There is no macerating fruit with sugar overnight (although it would sure help), no multiple cooking sessions, and no straining. You simply mix everything together and cook it till the sugar dissolves and the fruit falls apart into a chunky puree and starts to thicken. For the small amount of fruit I suggest, it takes barely 10 minutes of cooking. I use less sugar than would be required for a traditional version, so I advise storing this jam in the fridge, but it will last well for weeks, if not longer.
I have enjoyed this vanilla scented jam on yogurt, with goat cheese or oatmeal, but the best is probably on well-buttered toast, along with a cup of strong black tea.
Vanilla and Nutmeg Scented Plum Jam
1lb (approximately 500g or 3 cups) plums, stones removed, chopped in large pieces
1 1/2 cups (300g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
juice and zest of 1/4 lemon
1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg
Cut plums into halves or quarters, add lemon juice and sugar. If you’re using a vanilla bean, cut it in half, scrape out the seeds and cut the bean into 4 pieces. Add everything to plums.
Bring to a boil, cover and simmer gently over low heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved. If your plums are not juicy enough and don’t give off enough liquid to form thick syrup, add 1/4 cup of water.
Then boil for 5 – 10 minutes or until the jam thickens. Skim off the foam as needed. If using vanilla extract, add it right now, along with lemon zest and nutmeg.
Take off the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Fill hot sterilized jars carefully (see instructions for sterilizing jars here) and seal immediately. Cool completely and then store in the refrigerator. Yields about 3 pints.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin