Jams and Pickles: 15 posts

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

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.

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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.

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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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Raspberry Cognac Jam

“Do you remember the scene from Anna Karenina about making jam?” asked my grandmother as we stood over a pan of raspberries slowly melting into sugar. The passage my grandmother recalled was about a newly wed Kitty introducing a new method to Levin’s household, with somewhat tense results.

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“Agafea Mihalovna, to whom the task of jam-making had always been entrusted, considering that what had been done in the Levin household could not be amiss, had nevertheless put water with the strawberries, maintaining that the jam could not be made without it. She had been caught in the act, and was now making jam before everyone, and it was to be proved to her conclusively that jam could be very well made without water….Agafea Mihalovna, her face heated and angry, her hair untidy, and her thin arms bare to the elbows, was turning the preserving-pan over the charcoal stove, looking darkly at the raspberries and devoutly hoping they would stick and not cook properly.”*

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Green Plum, Erik : Tart Taste of Spring and Tkemali Sauce Recipe

As a kid I loved munching on unripe plums and apricots that I had picked from the low hanging branches in our garden. This activity was not at all allowed, but as anyone knows, forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest, and I continued to pillage our trees. Imagine my surprise and delight upon discovering many years later that in the Middle East, unripe plums are a special seasonal treat. Since they’re starting to become more available at the grocery stores and farmers’ markets, I can get my fill without threatening my grandmother’s plum harvest.

green plum erik

Called erik in Turkish (and sometimes marked as such at the stores), unripe green plums are in season April through June. They taste intensely tart. Crunchy and hard, they are for lovers of all things sour and mouth-puckering.  They are usually eaten with a pinch of salt, which brings out the delicate sweetness, and they have a faint floral taste. The plums are small, ranging from the size of hazelnuts to large cherries, and if left to ripen on the tree, they turn golden and syrupy sweet.

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Candied Blossoms and Flower Perfumed Syrup

Andy describes how seasonal blossoms can be captured in sugar.

If you love spring as much as I do, you may agree that it always seems to come and go quicker than it should. One week, I was strolling under pink clouds of cherry blossoms, and the next, the petals had all floated away from the branches. I didn’t have time to be dismayed though, when richly perfumed purple lilacs had begun to steal the show. The season always seems to play out like a vaudeville show of flowers, with one beautiful act following the next.

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A few weeks ago Victoria wrote about salting cherry blossoms, but you can also use sugar to capture the delicate flavors of spring. If you have never tried candying flowers before, it is extremely easy, and after you’ve done it once, you will find the task an irresistible way to extend the season of flowers like jasmine, lilac, rose and honeysuckle, to name a few. This spring, for instance, I found myself longing to preserve the beauty of sweetly scented violets, which are common in my area in the springtime. And since I had so many, I decided to candy them and make some perfumed syrup. My instructions below call for violets, but use whatever favorite edible flowers you can find, from pansies to roses.

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