My latest obsession is making jams. Luscious, lip smacking, fresh-as-the-fruit-it-came-from jam. A month ago Mum left a dozen gooseberries (amla) soaked in water on the kitchen counter, with explicit instructions to drink it every day. Them gooseberries sat pretty on the counter for a week till I remembered. By then, they were soft and mushy and I didn’t have the heart to throw them away, so into the kadhai they went.
That’s when I learnt something interesting: making a small batch of jam is one of the easiest things to do.
It definitely is easier than it looks, once the pectin and sugar have worked magic to transform into glistening jelly. The recipe is easy-peasy: take an equal proportion of fruit to sugar, cook the fruit (diced, mushed or pureed, it’s your call) in a bit of water. Since gooseberries are harder to blend than most fruits, soak it for a day or cook in water till a little tender, before removing the seeds and pulverising the fruit in the blender. Once it’s softened, add the sugar and lime juice (the juice from a lemon would do for a cup of fruit) and let it come to a rolling boil (on high heat). Don’t skimp on the sugar, as the reaction between pectin and sugar gives jam its jelly-like consistency. If the mixture looks watery even after boiling for several minutes, it probably needs more pectin: add a squeeze of lemon or orange.
The major ingredient in jam making is pectin, found naturally in citrus fruits. High-pectin fruits gel faster. Over-ripe fruits have lesser amounts of pectin, so they don’t set as well. Lucky me, I started with amla, which any Indian mother will tell you is brimming with Vitamin C (as well as pectin).
Ok. Cold plate ready? Drop a dollop of jam on it. If it wobbles a bit but stays, you’re almost there. If it runs when you tilt the plate, it will need another five to ten minutes of boiling and stirring.
Repeat cold-plate test. Is the jam firm but just a little jiggly? Great, your job is done! The next step is to ladle it into sterilised bottles. If that seems like too much work and you’re making a small batch, a glass jar dried well in the sun can be stored for several weeks (preferably in the fridge).
Oh, and after the amla jam, I made this:
Papaya – Apple jam
1 papaya (should not be over-ripe)
1 red apple, peeled and pureed
1 stick of cinnamon
Sugar equivalent to the pulp (Approximately a cup and a half)
1. Puree the papaya and apple and put to boil on the stove. Let it cook till it comes to a boil. In case you have used diced the fruits, cook till the cubes get mushy.
2. Squeeze the juice of the citrus fruits and add it to the mixture. Keep a plate in the freezer for testing when the jam is done.
3. Add a cup of sugar or approximately the same amount of fruit pulp. (Artificial pectin saves on cooking time and the amount of sugar needed. You can even make some from apple peels.)
4. Let the sugar dissolve and keep stirring on high temperature till the water starts to evaporate and the solution changes texture. You can also add mashed pieces of orange.
5. If the jam takes time to set, add more lemon/orange juice. This will also undercut the sweetness of the jam.
6. The jam will turn a glorious shade of sunset and start splattering when it’s close to getting done. Partially cover the lid and stir occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom (Remember, non-stick vessels with deep bottoms can make things much, much easier).
7. Once the jam starts to thicken, put a dollop on the cold plate. If the shape stays when you press it gently, it’s done. If it runs off the plate, give it another ten minutes.
8. Add the cinnamon (nutmeg too, if you like) at the very end.
Once the jam stays firm on the cold plate, you can turn off the flame. Ladle it into the sterilised glass jars when the jam is hot, after heating the jars in an oven set to 100 degree Celsius. A simpler but less steadfast method: leave the bottles to dry in the sun and ladle the jam in when it’s slightly cool.
And there you have it: happiness in a jar.