Sunday, August 24, 2008

Plum jam, sort of...

Because I have been cooking since I was a teenager (the legend goes: my mom caught chicken pox from me, when I was thirteen, and dictated recipes from her sickbed. The first thing I cooked was short ribs braised in red wine with bayleaves and juniper berries; the second, roast chicken - bird-bread is another story and belongs to my childhood: it involved bent beaks and derisive laughter from my brothers) and because my mother was a wonderful teacher - very much inspired by Elizabeth David - example and mentor, along with Señor Christie, written about in these posts; because I read copiously the introductions to many recipe books by Michelin-starred chefs (Troisgros, Vergé, Raymond Blanc, Georges Blanc, brothers Roux) brought back by my parents from their travels - always the best parts of the books because they spoke of childhood and philosophy and principle - and then worked my way right through the books; and because I was privileged enough to have eaten (a handful of times) at seriously serious, Michelin-starred restaurants and had a good taste memory...; and because my reading and eating expanded beyond the French influence, later, and Marcella Hazan, Ruth Grey and Rose Rogers (Italian), Dianna Kennedy, Rick Bayless (South O' the Border), Paula Wolfert and Claudia Roden (Middle East and North Africa), Charmaine Solomon, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (Southern Asia) were significant early influences and teachers, from their pages and in some cases, restaurants...(phew): there is not that much that I have not cooked.

I mean, that's relative. Of course. But generally, mousses, soufflés, terrines and pâtés and torchons of foie gras (well, once), daubes, stews, casseroles, moles (the dish not the animal), roasts, confits, cassoulets, consommés, sauces, crusts and bread, jellies and syllabubs, ice creams, tartes tatins, and crême brulée, are to me as intimidating as breathing (although more concentration is required...), and a lot better tasting.

But jam. This year has taught me about jam. I have made jam before, but for the first time I started early in the season and have been jam making solidly as the next fruits ripen. So I now know what I had forgotten: that the best teacher is repetition. Don't fret if your first and second and third roast chickens are not quite right. The next one may be. You will learn every time you make one, what works, what doesn't, what it looks like, smells like, sounds like. Cooking is as much about listening as it is about watching and tasting. And shopping, and choosing.

Today I made plum jam, my first, and it is very pretty. I haven't tasted it yet, but I will for breakfast tomorrow. But this, the fifth batch of jam this summer, is really the first time I felt quite comfortable with the process, and not overly anxious. I recognized signs and waited and relaxed, but not too much, and knew when it sounded right, beyond the hallowed two drips that must form on the side of a spoon before it is ready.

Plums rinsing...

Sugar syrup after fruit is covered overnight with organic sugar...

What I now call First Foam and Second be skimmed.

Sticky spoons.

Almost an empty pot...

Jam lined up and tomatoes in the background for gazpacho, and, as it turned out, a tomatini.


  1. 66, lovely.

    i have gone down a few of the same roads you have, with respect to food. there is a paula wolfert anecdote that i replay -- not just because it's about how to make bastilla correctly (which is fascinating), but because between the lines, it's about how to live life fully -- because it's just perfect.

    my jam story: strawberry guavas harvested off the wild fern forest floor on the big island with my dear friend when slightly, erm ... high. back at the coffee shack we made jam with peppercorns and with butter (mistake but mmmmmmm); and generally learned what not to do when canning but oh! was it tasty.

    have an amazing breakfast in the morning!


  2. It is indeed a long sentence. But so is the story it tells. And far from over. :-)

  3. Now Pritha, that sounds like a story. Are you in Hawaii?? Ferns, strawberry guavas (in South Africa we call them cherry guavas...)

    Yes, lots to learn VINCENT! Hey, can go back to calling you by your name! No more subterfuge! My goodness! Is that a fish you are holding???? :-) No, it's holding you, I forgot...hey, do you want a new photo up on the blog? We have so many choices now.

  4. LOL, this is an orgy of codewords revealed. ;-)

  5. Um, pardon my interruption, but I was wondering how many lbs of plums you bought to yield the jam?

  6. Ms Hound:

    6 pounds, my dear. And a quarter pound of sugar per pound of fruit, plus juice of two limes near the end. If you use pectin you can use less suagr and it also cooks for less time.

  7. I live in Brooklyn, Marie. None of those guavas here. Lots of waterbugs tho' that my cat is afraid of. Doesn't seem an equitable trade-off, right?

    Was just on skype earlier today with my on-again/off-again in Delhi and he was teasing me about what's in season in the markets there. And reminding me that he couldn't care less, as he's a fruit hater.

    unfairness, all around.


  8. Pritha - Brooklyn!

    So where was the big island?

    Your cat and my cat should team up against waterbugs.

  9. My cat needs to get schooled by Estorbo!

    The last time I was on the Big Island was three years ago. The jam happening took place in 1997.



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