Somehow, in the space of less than a year, I’ve transformed into an earnest WI type before my own eyes. That’s not an insult to Women’s Institute members – I think local social clubs offering talks, cookery demonstrations, craft workshops and cake cook-offs are actually pretty cool*. But I have in mind here the (no doubt very out-of-date) stereotype of the diligent and industrious jam and cake maker.
It’s a shock. Who’d ever have thought I’d become so addicted that I’d start to feel the itch of withdrawal if I didn’t preserve anything for a few weeks? Not me! But that’s what’s happened!
In June last year, excluding childhood days in the kitchen helping mum make strawberry jam after a day at the PYO farm (approximately 30 years ago and I really wasn’t much help!) I had never made my own jam or chutney or marmalade or ketchup or pickle! But I started with a bang when my mum, my cousin and I got to work making a marvellous selection of goodies for my one-off market stall. And then I made numerous pickles, chutneys, ketchups and jams, mainly from produce in the garden (and a gift box of mangoes). I only blogged a couple of those!
So, now, even though market day has long since come and gone I still have a larder full of jars! Pete has reached a point where he glares at me if I suggest making anything else, especially since I tend to rope him in to help me!
But when a fellow food blogger friend of mine tweeted about making clementine and rosewater marmalade, I couldn’t help but sigh wistfully and wish I were joining her. And to my delight, Carla (who canbebribedwithfood) invited me over to hers for a Sunday of making jam and flapjacks together. Bliss! Instead of deciding in advance exactly what jams we’d make I went fruit shopping the day before to buy whatever looked lovely and was well-priced. Carla would provide brunch and the makings of (some very good) flapjacks!
On a bit of a whim, I bought a 2 kilo box of fresh lychees (thinking they’d go ever so nicely with Carla’s rosewater, even though I’d never heard of lychee jam and had no idea whether it would work). And I bought 2 kilos of apricots, seduced by the idea of a traditional French confiture d’abricot which I do so love on fresh crusty white baguette with slatherings of good butter!
After a very fine brunch indeed of freshly baked, home-made parmesan cheese muffins (it was Cheese Sunday!) and oeufs en cocotte with smoked salmon, leeks and crème fraiche we got to work.
Peeling lychees to eat is quick. I know this because I can sit and go through a bag of them in next to no time, peeling the skin in seconds, popping the whole fruit into my mouth and evicting the little brown stone moments later. Peeling and chopping lychees to go into jam, and trying to remove that dark brown tough little bit of skin on the inside, is a pain in the proverbial! But before too long we had a kilo of chopped lychee plus the juice from our chopping boards that we also poured into the pan.
Slightly alarmed, the night before Jam Sunday, by the lack of lychee jam recipes I could find on the interwebs, I’d twittered for help tracking down more recipes and gratefully received the advice to search in French on confiture de litchis, as this is a very popular jam in French-speaking places such as Réunion. Bingo! Carla and I cobbled together amounts from reading a few of the recipes I’d bookmarked and got cooking (see below for weights/ ingredients). The lychee fruits took a long time to soften, and never broke down as much as some fruits do, but the mass of fruit and sugar did, eventually, produce 4 jars of rather tasty lychee and rosewater jam. We added the rosewater in right at the end, just before bottling.
Stoning, halving and dicing the apricots was far, far quicker work. We left the skin on as it was so soft. The apricots were quite sharp – just right for jam making as we both like apricot jam with a good balance between sweet and sharp. Again, we amalgamated a number of online recipes and it wasn’t long before apricots, sugar, lemon juice and pectin were cooking away on the stove top. (Again, see below for weights/ ingredients).
Whilst the apricot jam cooked, Carla made the flapjacks and popped them into the oven. As she bottled the finished jam (which tasted just like the traditional french jam I had been dreaming of) I screwed on the lids. Unfortunately, one popped open on me just as I’d closed it, the burning jam spilled out and lead to my dropping the open jar onto the floor. Whilst it landed almost upright, globules of hot jam shot into the air and all over Carla’s worktop and washing machine, splattered my hair, my apron, my (dry-clean) cardigan sleeves, my jeans and the floor and Carla’s arms too. I was shocked to find so much jam still in the jar when I rescued it back up onto the worktop! Gah! How embarassing – first time visiting a friend’s house, being invited to share her kitchen, and splashing hot jam all over it! As anyone who has met Carla will know, she’s very sweet and gracious and she completely took it in her stride and we’d soon finished filling the rest of the jars, a whopping 14 of them!
Still, sitting in the living room and eating hot, freshly baked flapjacks made from burnt honey and dark brown sugar… oh that was wonderful! And even better, I went home with a bag of flapjacks, 7 jars of apricot jam, 2 of lychee and rosewater jam and one of Carla’s clementine and rosewater marmalade, swapped for a jar of my nectarine and amaretto jam!
Thank you, Carla, for a lovely day!
Lychee & Rosewater Jam
1 kilo lychee
600 grams sugar
juice of one orange
rosewater (to taste)
2 kilos apricot flesh
1800 grams sugar (or to taste, depending on ripeness of apricots)
juice of 2 lemons (or to taste, depending on ripeness of apricots)
*During the writing of this blog post, I’ve actually visited the WI website. I’d like to find out more with a view to potentially joining!