Summer has suddenly arrived in Rome, after a cool wet spring. Where did May go? I’ve finally excavated my open-toed sandals, and have been eyeing the new summer produce every afternoon while walking home. Little melons, that already smell sweet. Piles of fresh apricots, the first nectarines, tangles of cherries, and the oh-so tempting strawberries – no, most of those are already on their way out. So I bought cherries last night. Last year I made cherry-apple jam with Campari, and it was delicious. However, this time I had in mind a small batch of spicy cherry jam to go with pecorino cheese from Pienza: a jam not too sweet, with a bite, and not too runny.
I’m studying for a French exam, and suspect this jam-making may be part of my procrastination strategy, along with a sudden need to iron, fold linen, scrub sinks….. anything to avoid facing French verbs. At least I am translating in my head while cooking: “J’ai fait la confiture de cerises avec des pommes, du piment et de poivre noir, à manger avec du fromage de la brebis.”
Cherry-apple jam for cheese, with chilli and black pepper
600g pitted cherries
400g apples (3 medium apples, cored but not peeled)
45g pectin powder
1 1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
1/2 tsp black pepper
Start by sterilizing the jars you’ll use. I just boil clean jars and lids for five minutes or so in a saucepan, and leave them there until needed. Not proper canning, but it works for me. Rinse and pit the cherries. Have a wide pot ready for the fruit. For the apples (I used three red): core and quarter them but leave peel on. Grate the apple wedges; if there are stubborn strips of peel, just chop those and toss them in the pot. Heat gently for five minutes, and you will see the cherries softening and giving off liquid. Add chill flakes and black pepper: half a teaspoon at a time, please taste your way to adjust the heat, less chilli might suit your tastes. This is medium spicy, but not as hot as my Chilli pepper apple jam. Optional step: with a hand blender, liquidize half of the cherries, it will make the jam more homogenous and red.
Add the pectin and boil two more minutes. Add the sugar and boil five minutes. Remove from the heat, and pour into warm, sterilised jars. Seal. I let mine cool upside down, as that is what my mother does – must ask her why! Label, and store in a cool place. (Or store in your hot Roman kitchen, hoping nothing explodes in the summer heat…. so far, so good.) Notes: The pectin/sugar ratio will differ, based on the type you have. See what your pectin packet recommends, the ratios are key here. This is a lot less sugar than was recommended, but these cherries are quite sweet. You might use lemon juice as well, but I used pectin and apples to firm it up a bit.
See: not even cool yet, and it is holding its shape well! No danger of this lazily dripping off a piece of cheese. The chilli and pepper flavour does intensify, so use you may want to use less, unless you want cheese jam with quite a kick.
I tried the jam this morning with freshly baked bread and smoked cheddar (yes, from London) and really enjoyed it. With half a bowl of cherries left, I think this means clafoutis next……
But first, a little more French grammar avoidance: I will watch/listen to “Haute Cuisine” (Les Saveurs du palais) while ironing. Lovely film, based on the true story of the French president’s first female chef. We need to have vocabulary ready to speak about hobbies at the exam, so what better film to help? Any other suggestions for French culinary films to watch?