Jams and Pickles: 13 posts

Recipes to create your own jams, candied fruit, spice extracts, pickles and other delicious homemade preserves

Sweet Orange Salt, Bitter Orange Sugar

Citrus is the main reason I’ll miss winter. The season of blood oranges, lemons and grapefruits is winding down in our parts, and although I look forward to the strawberries and cherries of spring, a perfect orange is enough to make me forget the cold, sticky snow and grey skies of Belgian winters. Orange rewards you with both taste and smell, since few other plants are so willing to yield their aromatic oils. With orange–or any other citrus fruit–you only need to squeeze the thick spongy peel to experience essence in its pure form.

bitter orange1

It’s a pity to waste all of that goodness, and if I have organic , unsprayed fruit, I preserve the zest in a variety of ways: by candying, flavoring vinegar, mixing with tea, drying or perfuming salt and sugar. The latter is by far the easiest and most versatile way to capture the aroma. All you need to do is to grate the colored part of the fruit and mix it with the base ingredient of your choice.

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Sweet Tomato Chutney with Pistachios and Raisins

That tomato is a fruit becomes obvious once you pair it with sugar or sweet ingredients. One of the main aromatic components of tomato, furaneol, is also called strawberry furanone by fragrance and flavor chemists, because it’s such an important note in the complex berry aroma. Incidentally, it’s one of the reasons behind difficulties with tomato accords in perfumery–they smell of red berries if there is even a modicum of sweetness in the formula. It’s therefore natural to treat tomato in much the same way as you would a fruit–cooking it into jams, combining it with sweet pastry or melting it down with vanilla and caramel for an ice cream sauce. Or you can make it into a sweet chutney to be served with grilled meat or rice dishes.

tomato chutney

Chutney is an Indian sauce that may be raw or cooked, and the ingredients run the gamut from fruits and vegetables to beans and nuts. I’m a chutney fiend. I firmly believe that a dollop of chutney makes anything better–a sandwich, a bowl of rice, a piece of grilled chicken. So do many Indians, because not only do they excel in coming up with the most unusual chutney combinations, they don’t hesitate in pairing them together. For instance, spicy green coriander chutney is often partnered with a sweet date one. As you dip crisp eggplant fritters first in one, then the other and experience the explosion of flavor, you understand how silly is the whole idea of “less is more.”

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Rose Jam

“Do you remember Asya’s recipe for rose jam?” I ask my grandmother as I return to the house with a basket full of rose petals. A craggy shrub by the fence has suddenly sprouted into a mass of frilly pink blossoms, and I feel inspired. “No,” says Valentina, with an expression that accepts no arguments. “She wasn’t much of a cook. She never made jam.” I’m confused, because I do recall gathering roses for jam with my great-grandmother. Did I make it up, just like I concocted the story of my father being a Bollywood actor? Then my grandmother reconsiders. “You’re right, she did. Every summer. But it was terrible. Dark and overcooked.”

rose-jam1

The saccharine stories that preface many cookbooks, of learning cooking at grandmother’s side as she tenderly explains the right way to cut carrots or hull strawberries, aren’t part of my childhood recollections. Valentina has so little tolerance for imperfection, or deviations from her way of doing things, that cooking with her is as relaxing as being a Top Chef contestant. Asya, her mother, had no patience for mincing and sauteing; her passion was the garden. Perhaps, this is why I don’t remember eating her jam, only the intense honeyed fragrance of roses as we picked them.

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Vanilla and Nutmeg Scented Plum Jam

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.

plum jam2

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.

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Bergamot (or Orange) Marmalade

When you watch snowflakes swirling outside your window on a grey November afternoon, it’s hard to imagine that somewhere else there are flowers blooming and citrus trees laden with golden orbs. On the southern coast of Italy, Calabrian bergamot farmers are preparing to collect fruit, and for most of the month, the air in Reggio Calabria will be thickly perfumed with a peppery citrus essence as bergamot rinds are processed into essential oil.

bergamotsbergamot-jam1

Although we usually encounter bergamot as essence perfuming our cologne or Earl Grey tea, the fruit itself is a marvel. It has a heady aroma, and it tastes exactly the same way it smells–spicy, acidic, with a hint of green jasmine. It’s much sharper than lemon but also more complex and fragrant.

Bergamot juice can be substituted for lemon in marinades, sauces or dressings. Imagine poached salmon with bergamot mayonnaise or bergamot-basil pesto rubbed over pork chops. The juicy flesh can be tossed with salad greens, onions, and parsley to accompany grilled meat or seafood.  But in Calabria and much of southern Italy, bergamot usually ends up candied or in a jam. Bergamot jam is one of my most vivid memories of southern Italy, and whenever I get a chance, I recreate it at home.

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  • Karen A in Cherry Blossom Haiku: I am right there with you nearly passed out from exhaustion from working in the garden! I take breaks under various shrubs breathing in the scent of the earth. Love… April 26, 2017 at 11:23pm

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  • Anna in Cherry Blossom Haiku: What a lovely post for the Spring, Victoria. Cherry blossoms and haiku. I love Basho but had not heard of Buson. It reminds me to buy an anthology. Winter gives… April 26, 2017 at 9:17pm

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