I never thought I would actually ever prepare jam, but I did and I still do regularly. believe me, once you make your own jam, you will never buy the market variety ever again. This has been my experience.
So let me start from the beginning and continue with a few tips and recipes.
Why I had to learn
Everything started on a cold November day in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. We had arrived in late October and the first snowflakes were appearing followed by those amazing deep bleu skies and very cold winds. I was new to the place and I was exploring the various food markets.
As the weather got colder, the fruits and vegetables available got fewer. The tomatoes and apples I saw in October had virtually disappeared by early December. There was almost nothing green… I was at a loss of what to feed my then almost two-year old son. And I was dreaming of juicy mangos and fresh tomatoes. I could almost feel the tanginess of lemon when I concentrated enough.
By January, all that was available were onions and potatoes. Piles and piles of them. My only consolations were canned tomatoes and honey.
By early March, colours finally started coming back in the market.
I had gotten the first whiff of them when I saw the apricot tree bloom in the garden. We will have apricots I thought! And indeed we did. By April we had gathered more than 20 kilos of apricots and if you walked under the tree, you would get tipsy just from the smell of the ones that had fallen on the ground.
As the garden filled with flowers, so did the market with fresh ingredients. After the apricots, came the strawberries, the plums, the cherries and mountains and mountains of raspberries. By June, there were gigantic melons and watermelons sold on the side of the road near our house.
And the vegetables were plentiful as well, from tomatoes to cucumbers to herbs of all sorts. And in the garden, the mint that had been a small dried branch that I had, I admit, dismissed during the winter days, had bloomed into a large bush generously providing shade and a most wonderful scent.
And that is when I started doing research on jams and conserves and pickling, and all sorts of tips related to the preservation of fresh fruits and vegetables. And as I did so, I realized that everyone around me was doing the same. Sugar became a sought after commodity and would fly off the shelves fast. Limits were even placed on how much sugar each customer could buy. But that year, I managed.
I made jam with almost all the fruits I could find: apricots, strawberries, raspberries and cherries. I set some fruit syrup on the side to be used in winter for baking cakes and muffins, and waffles. I even tried tomato jam! I also pickled lemons and more.
I even made raspberry vinegar! I should try doing it again. (Mix fresh raspberries with white apple vinegar in a glass bottle. Place in a dark place for four weeks and it is ready!)
I have since become more comfortable in making jams and preserves, and even tried my hand at making Chutney. I wished I had done that before.
Here a few recipes you may enjoy from Fig & Lemon.
Making jam I realized is easy, really easy. All you need are fresh ingredients, glass jars and a little bit of time.
Before you embark on making jam, here are a few tips you may find useful:
– Do not mix excessively during cooking or the jam may become too liquid and the pieces of fruit could disintegrate.
– To know if it is done, place a few drops of the jam on a cold plate and tilt it. If the liquid runs, it is not done.
– To prepare a glass jam container: simply pour boiling water in the container and rinse with that water. Then place it open side up until it dries. The cover should preferably be made of glass.
– Use a disposable cloth to clean the rim of the container after filling it with jam. Do not use a wet reusable cloth as it could encourage the formation of bacteria.
– Jam made this way can stay up to a year in the fridge.
Jam is easy to make and once you have mastered the technic and gotten a feel for how each fruit gently lets out its natural sweetness, you can be inventive.
For example, apricot jam is one of the easiest to make as the fruit stays together. There is no need to let it sit in sugar and it cooks in just about 25 minutes. No need to stir it too often. Strawberries and raspberries are more delicate so you may want to stir very gently. Figs require they be left in sugar for at least an hour before cooking and you must stir continuously during the 20 minutes of cooking. The best part is the syrup they produce, and you can place them in separate jars to be used as natural sweetners when baking. See here the recipe for strawberry jam and syrup, that can be applied to many other fruits.
And do not hesitate to be inventive. Think about mixing ingredients as though you were walking into a scented garden. Think of verbena with apricots or lavender with figs or even rose with fig. Avoid using essences, and only use fresh ingredients. Use thyme or rosemary, and spices too like cardamon as in this Persian carrot jam made with rosewater and cardamon, which I replicated with peach.
You can also replace white sugar with brown sugar either fully or in proportions (3/4rds brown for 1/4rd white). If you use only brown sugar, use less than 75% of what the original recipe calls for (eg: use 750 gr of brown sugar instead of one kilo of white sugar for one kilo of fruits). See this apricot jam with brown sugar for more explanations.
Unlike jam, marmelade is more difficult to make. The term marmelade only applies to citrus fruits. I made lemon marmelade without using any chemicals or artificial hardeners, and it came out fine. The process is however more assiduous than simple jam. But try it, it is really worth it!
Preserves and chutney
This for me was the next step after making jam. The process is a tad more complicated, but it is still doable with the right ingredients.
The first time I made chutney I was extremely careful in measuring the ingredients and cooking just as the instructions said. Then I relaxed and realised that a lot had to do with the aroma as the chutney gets made. The latter is the way I always cook, but since it was a first for me, I wanted to be careful. Here is the recipe for mango chutney, and it can be replicated for other fruits such as figs or even plums.
Preserves are not hard either but you need time. For example, to make Moroccan Leemon M’raqqad, you just need lemons and a lot salt. After that, time does the rest.
Further than jam and preserves
Once you have homemade jam or preserves in the fridge, the world is yours! or almost…
You can make wonderful sweet dishes such as Sachertorte with homemade apricot jam, or pain perdu in the oven or apple tart using strawberry syrup instead of sugar. And if you have some time in the morning, try these wonderful upside down popovers with apricot jam.
And of course you can be creative with yoghurt. Just add some fruit syrup to plain yoghurt and you can make a delightful homemade strawberry yoghurt, and it comes out naturally pink!
On the salty side, many dishes can also be prepared and really fast since the chutney or the preserved lemon will add so much flavour! Try these delicate asparagus (or should it be asparagi?) cooked in saffron topped with mango chutney, or this Mediterranean red snapper with cherry tomatoes and Moroccan preserved lemons.
There is so much more you can do. I have only listed a few recipes and you can find more on the website. Be creative and try your hand! Let me know as I would love to hear from you.