jam: 6 posts

French Fig Jam

Jam has become such an industrial, mass-produced product that it might be hard to imagine making it at home. This is not the case in France–or much of Europe, for that matter. When I visited my friend on her farm in Burgundy, we drove around for hours only to discover that all of the stores were out of preserving supplies. We ended up ordering a case of jars from an online shop, because the figs were ripening fast.

My friend follows a recipe that has been in her family for several generations. We cut figs into quarters and weigh them to determine the amount of sugar. It’s 2 parts fruit to 1 part sugar. Figs are sweet, so we add lemon juice. As their juices melt into sugar, the syrup becomes pink, then purple, then burgundy, like the famous wines of the region. The green perfume of figs transforms as they cook. The fragrance of natural coumarin in their peel, the aromatic that smells of toasted almonds and cherries, becomes more pronounced and richer. The lemon zest gives the fig jam a twist reminiscent of Shalimar.

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Rose Jam Kyiv Style

If I had to select a few ingredients that define Ukrainian cooking for me, it would be tomatoes, pork and roses. Tomatoes are essential for borsch, stuffed peppers, ragouts and salads. Pork is eaten in all guises, from lightly salted belly fat to roasted ham and garlicky sausages. Roses, on the other hand, are all about sweetness. Almost every yard in our small village near Poltava has a shrub of the so-called jam roses, usually the rosa damascena variety. Rose jam fills the Christmas pampushky, sweet doughnuts, strudels, crescents and crepes. Best of all, it’s eaten alongside a cup of black tea, a taste of Ukrainian summer at its most opulent. (Despite the common stereotypes, Ukraine is not covered with snow for most of the year. Not only is it large enough to contain different climatic zones, the summers are long, hot and bountiful.)

Ever since I’ve revived my great-grandmother’s roses, I’ve been trying different rose jam recipes, such as this delight I shared two years ago. This summer’s experiment is the Kyiv style rose jam, a variety of preserve made without a drop of water. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, gooseberries and cherries are the most common fruits used in Kyivske varennia, Kyiv style jam. The fruit is cooked in syrup and then drained and rolled in fine sugar. The result is more of a sweetmeat than the usual runny conserve. The rose jam Kyiv style is different, however. The rose petals are crushed with sugar and no cooking is required.

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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.”

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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.

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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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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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