One of the most vivid memories from my childhood is of the big jar of homemade black grape jam slipping from my clumsy fingers, and crashing to the ground. I don’t remember if I was scolded for being clumsy, or how we cleaned that ensuing mess. All I remember is that distinct feeling of loss, and great regret. I loved jams, so I was heartbroken that we had just lost nearly a kilo of jam.
While most children salivated at the thought of chocolates, I couldn’t resist fruit jams and stews. A dessert could be something as simple as a few spoonfuls of malai (homemade cream) with some jam, or fruit stew. In fact, the highlight of the strawberry season was the annual visit of my father’s friend, who lived in Denmark, because I knew that my mother would serve his favourite dessert – strawberry stew with vanilla ice cream. When it came to fruit stews, my mother didn’t stop at strawberries. Apples, guavas, peaches, apricots…they could all be made into a delightful stew, to be served with some malai whipped with powdered sugar, and we had a delectable dessert ready! I’m pretty sure that fruit stews were the first thing I learned to cook.
Several decades later, my love affair with jams hasn’t reduced in intensity , and I’m well known for coveting new jams at the supermarket, and can never resist trying a new flavour, even though it’s led to some weird experiences, like the beer jam or the wine jam, that I made my husband buy for me at a Toronto flea market. They are heavy things to buy on trips, especially when airlines charge so much for extra luggage, but I can’t stop myself from buying and lugging back jars of jam from trips across India, or abroad.
Some of my favourite food memories include jams of various kinds – the lemon marmalade at the Neemrana hotels, the first time I had a nectarine jam in France, plum jam in Coonoor (or was it from Landor?), an apple-cinnamon jam that I’d bought at a flea market in Bangalore, homemade gooseberry jam, and more recently, the black grape jam that I made at home a couple of years ago.
The first time I made jam at home was because the gooseberries were a bit too tart, even for me, and the only way to eat them, was by making a jam. The trend continued for a few years, with me reaching for the pan and sterilising a bottle in preparation of a jam, only if the fruits were too tart, or not sweet enough. Flash forward to 2020, and I find myself trying and making all kinds of jams. I think one of the biggest motivation factors in the beginning, was the number of empty jars, from Licious spreads, that I’d hoarded in 2019!
Since the last few months, I find myself buying extra fruit, just so I can make jams and chutneys, and savour them for a few more weeks. It started in February with strawberry, followed by endless bottles of mint and coriander chutney with raw mango, and now peaches, plums and cherries, which are available for a very short time in Bangalore.
I enjoy washing and chopping vegetables, and find the process very cathartic. But the process of washing, chopping and cooking fruits can only be described as blissful. Thirty minutes, at the end of which I’m feeling calm, and utterly pleased with myself…and have a jar (or three) of jams ready to be stored in the fridge!
Here’s a fool proof recipe for almost any fruit jam:
- 2 cups of chopped fruit.
- ⅓ cup sugar (lesser if you don’t like your jam too sweet)
Add the chopped fruits and sugar to a saucepan, on medium heat. Keep stirring occasionally, as the fruit breaks down, and becomes juicy. Take off the heat, let it cool before pouring into a sterilised bottle.
You can eat the jams in the traditional way, with toast, use them in cakes (in between layers of sponge cake for a Victoria sandwich, or as a molten fruit center in muffins), or pour a spoon of melted jam over a scoop of vanilla ice cream for a quick, yet delicious dessert!
*** If you like your jams without any fruit chunks, you can mash the fruit with a fork or potato masher, after taking off the heat.
*** To add some nuance to your jams, here are some ideas:
- 🍓 Strawberry jam : ½ tbsp of lemon juice
- 🍎 Apple jam : cinnamon. I like to add a stick, while cooking, and leave it in the jar, so that the flavour intensifies over time.
- 🍑 Peach jam : cinnamon.
- Plum jam : cinnamon. Check out this recipe by BBC Good Food that uses cinnamon powder.
- 🍒 Cherry jam : lemon, or a cherry liqueur, if you have it! Check out David Lebovitz’s cherry jam recipe for inspiration.