This is for my foodie pals out there, and you know who you are! Glue is always sticky, as is jam… and I am a self-declared expert in getting myself into a jam! I was once told that food is the magical glue that keeps body and soul together. I laughed at this for decades until it dawned on me how important cooking the food really is. It is so much more than simply throwing ingredients into a pot to watch what happens – but rather it is an exquisite ballet between ingredients and the cook.
I had no idea that the jam making bug could be so addictive. It is perfectly understandable that in the olden days people stood days on end in their kitchens making jams, jellies, preserves and pickling for practicality’s sake. This is a not a familiar concept for Asians who live in milder climates and have access to fruits and vegetables all year round, but here in Europe when you are slave to four seasons, you have to take full advantage of the harvest and prepare for the lean winter months when nothing grows. Of course, nowadays you just waddle over to the supermarket and stand in front of the jam section and try and figure out what to dump in your shopping cart. Where is the fun in that? It’s so much nicer knowing what exactly has gone into the jar!
There was a time when I used to wander aimlessly into my mother-in-law’s pantry and be overcome by a sense of awe and bewilderment at the shelves of jams and preserves she would store there. It never ceased to amaze me how much work and effort went into all these jars between May and August every year when fruit was abundant. There was never a shortage of jams, frozen fruit or apple puree. But she always stuck to the classic recipes and was not a fan of deviating from the norm – why would she? After all, her recipes were utter perfection and had impressed the most critical of jam snobs ever to walk this earth – my father. It is no wonder then that I repelled and rebelled from this task altogether until recently.
Once I got the hang of making the jams and marmalades with different fruits and learned to adapt to the various consistencies and fluidities, I ventured out into more daring recipes, as is typical of my maternal ancestral roots. Vegetable jams are very appealing and the first adventure was carrot jam, wherein I combined an old Amish and a classic Persian recipe that included rose water. My Iranian neighbour approved wholeheartedly so I knew I had hit the right notes. Rose water can be tricky, add too much and you end up with something that tastes like a body scrub.
FrogDiva Carrot Jam
In a large pot mix
2 cups diced carrots,
1/2 cup grated carrots,
500gms jam sugar (I use the 3:1 ratio),
juice of 1 large orange (roughly 1/3 cup),
1 Tbsp orange zest,
1/2 tsp ground cardamom,
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes on low heat. Turn off the stove and add
1/4 cup brandy
1 tsp rose water
Fill jam jars to the brim and allow to set 12 hours before serving.
I’ve written about the initial lemon and orange marmalades, but now that I’m at reached the deranged level I decided to hell with the classics. The first product resulting from this daredevil jam (sounds like a wild heavy metal concert doesn’t it?) is tomato orange marmalade. When I stumbled upon the recipe I scrunched up my nose, but if you know your veggies and flavours, you will recognise that the arranged marriage of these two ingredients is not that far fetched. My deviously deviant twist was adding a sprig of fresh rosemary in each jar. Well golly gee Ms. Froggy, it is one of the most interesting flavours that I have ever encountered in a jam! The trick here is to use the small Roma tomatoes (even smaller than cherry tomatoes), so if you can find the mini sized that are slightly larger than peanuts then all the better, otherwise the olive-sized ones are the ones I used.
FrogDiva Tomato Orange Marmalade
1 Kg mini Roma tomatoes
1 Kg thinly sliced oranges
500 gas jam sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
Bring to a boil an simmer for 8 minutes.
Prepare each of the jam jars with
1 sprig of fresh rosemary (should be the same height of the jar)
2 Tbsp rum (per jar)
Pour the jam in and allow to set (upside-down) 24 hours before serving
Yesterday was the most adventurous experiment yet, which was a real gamble. I had seen the recipe before and for the life of me couldn’t imagine such a bizarre combination of flavours. The tomato orange was more plausible, but not Blueberry Lemon Basil jam! I’m not one to shy away from a challenge and since blueberries are currently in season, I figured this was a good a time as any to fiddle around. The frown on my daughter’s face reflected my discomfort with the experiment and at some point I wondered whether I should have been wearing a lab coat and been using beakers over bunsen burners instead of a ladle and pot. Holy guacamole! Talk about orgasmic flavours! It’s like sangria in jam form.
FrogDiva Blueberry Lemon Basil Jam
500 gms fresh blueberries
6 large lemons roughly chopped in a food processor
juice of 4 lemons
500 gms jam sugar
2 Tbsp gelatine powder (Gelatine fix if you are in Europe)
Bring everything to a boil over medium heat and then simmer for 8 minutes.
Prepare each of the jam jars with
6 leaves of fresh basil
3 Tbsp whiskey
Allow to set (upside-down) 24 hours before serving
Note that the use of fresh rosemary and basil are non-negotiable here. You cannot substitute with dried herbs! The alcohol can of course be discarded but increase the acidity in each of the cases. For the carrot jam, if you don’t like rose water you can use dried lavender instead, which I personally don’t like but some of you may prefer it to rose water!