I have a massive sweet tooth. In fact, I’m pretty sure all my teeth are sweet. I love sugar and sugar loves me – sort of. So it’s no surprise that I like to smother it all over a tasty scone/crumpet/croissant/slice of toast in its most delicious form as J A M. In the past few years I have eschewed the usual strawberry for different fruits. My favourites of recent times have been fig, quince and apricot.
Figs may deserve a post all of their own, I SO adore this fruit. I have mistakenly gorged myself on one too many once or twice and felt the unpleasant side effects, who hasn’t?! The joy of having a full bowl of recently picked, cool from the fridge, beautifully ripe and juicy green figs is one of life’s simple pleasures. They’re nature’s succulent sweeties. Made into a jam so I can eat them at breakfast is a delight. Honey sweetness, a burnished gold colour, with a little crunch from the seeds. YUM.
Where to buy: Jamie Oliver did a delicious fig jam, bought from one of his Recipease eateries, but I can’t seem to find a link to the product. My recent taste of it has been the Bonne Maman Fig Conserve, available from all good supermarkets.
Quince is another beauty of a fruit, looking like an apple-y pear, golden yellow in colour and with a sweet scent. Near my Avó’s house in Portugal was a school that had quince trees dotted around the perimeter and I remember seeing branches heavy with strange fruit. I can only remember to have tasted quince in preserve form though, or rather as I know it, marmelada.
“You mean marmalade, right?” WRONG. As a bilingual kid I couldn’t seem to get my head round the difference between the two. One is made from quince, the other from citrus fruits with bits in it. Nope, I don’t mean Paddington Bear’s favourite spread, I mean this: The above is known in English as a quince cheese and basically is a solid, sliceable form of quince jam/preserve. It’s delicate but has a very slight grainy texture, almost like a dryish pear. It gets its reddy-brown colour from being slowly cooked with sugar for a long time. It has ancient roots too, with a recipe found in a Roman cookbook.
I remember cutting thin slices from a tub and eating in between Rich Tea biscuits, or eating in papos secos but the sweet tart flavour is also delicious with some fresh cheese or a gorgeous hunk of bread.
Where to buy: available in tubs from all good Portuguese deli shops. Check out Café Sintra in the Stockwell/Brixton area in South London.
Apricot jam is often overlooked. Sometimes it’s used as a base for sticking marzipan to cakes, so not seen to be as glamorous as its other fruity counterparts. Personally, I love the delicate taste and I like that it’s so versatile. Slightly sweet, slightly tart, for me it’s a lovely balance.
Where to buy: on a recent long drive to the coast we stopped by the amazing Eggs to Apples in Hurst Green. This gorgeous little farm shop had beautiful fresh products that were either British or locally sourced (try the Cornish mussels and the carrot cake, both divine!) I picked up a Martha and Ed’s jar which was scrumptious. I love their ethos of making smaller batches, thus meaning a higher fruit content without need for additives or preservatives. We recently picked up a Sunberry jar (a raspberry/blackberry cross) which is gorgeous.
The holy grail of jams for me is tomato. “What?!?” I hear you say, “what madness is this?!” Tomato is a fruit, n’est pas? It is. The sweet yet tart flesh yields the most beautiful taste. Doçe de tomate takes me way, way back to my childhood and long summer holidays in Portugal that were filled with food and sunshine. Visits to grandparents and bringing back tomatoes the size of a small loaf, known colloquially as coração de boi or Ox heart tomatoes. These giants, grown in the quinta just a few yards away would usually be strange and misshapen, different to the grocers and supermarkets back home in London. Their colours ranged from rich reds to acidic yellows and everything in between. They were perfect for jam making especially as there was always an abundance whenever we visited.
I can still hear the whistle of the pressure cooker in Avó’s kitchen. I can still see the pantry cupboard stocked with jars ready for my stay, for me to have with a papo seco roll for breakfast or an afternoon snack (no wonder I’d come back with such chubby cheeks!) and there’d be extra for me to bring back in my suitcase carefully wrapped in newspaper and clothes.
Where to buy: sadly those halcyon days of being fed sweet treats by my grandma are gone and she’s not made jam for many, many years. I’ve been getting my tomato jam fix from jars bought at Lisbon airport carefully rationing them and saving for special occasions – I have a quarter of a jar left, it’s reaching a critical level!! I’ve not found any tomato jam for sale here yet, only the horrible chutneys that insist on adding chilli, peppers or other nastiness to my beloved jam. I’m guessing it may be on sale in a Portuguese deli shop and when I next visit one, I may need to clear their shelves. However, if anyone wants to either make me some from their large tomato crop, or pick some jars up next time you fly from a Portuguese airport I would be SO HAPPY and grateful!
Let me know if you’ve tried any of the above or have any suggestions for me to try in the comments below!