August plum jam

I am so pleased that cooler weather is here. Today the rain is bucketing down again in Rome, but I have no complaints after the long, dry summer here. I am reading cookbooks and thinking what about what to cook. It was hard moving back in February, going into two months of lockdown in March, adapting to working from home and being worried about our mortgage and the pandemic. Now suddenly it feels like a shift in gears has kicked in, and life is more manageable. Which is nice. We had a couple small trips away this months (Arezzo, and Sperlonga) which really helped. More to follow on those.

Rome was very, very quiet this August. Empty streets, quiet nights, and more shops closed for longer. No wonder, after the months of lockdown and uncertainty. The border closures have been stressful for us, as for many. It’s been hard not going home this summer, but the fear of bringing contagion back to our parents remains. I miss the Norwegian summer and cool green forests, picking blueberries with family, and the odd spot of jam-making. Making this plum jam on a warm day in August was a sweaty but comforting small step to feel connected..

August Plum jam

2 kg yellow plums (with a few fresh apricots thrown in)
100 ml water
600 gr sugar
70 gr dry fruit pectin (a vintage sachet from 2012…)

This is pretty flexible as recipes go, it depends on the plums you have. I added some apricots that were lurking in the fridge, which gave the jam an even nicer golden hue.

Wash the plums, chop in two and remove the pits. This is easy if the plums are ripe. Otherwise, if the plums are a little hard, you can cook them and fish out the pits later. Use a wide saucepan if you have one. You will not need to add much water if the plums are soft. Cook the plums gently in a little water for 8-10 minutes, stirring now and then until the plums are cooked through and collapsed to be jam-like.

While the jam cooks, sterilize your jam jars. I do that in a saucepan with boiling water, jars and lids.

Add sugar and pectin to jam, and bring to the boil again until the sugar and pectin have dissolved. Then take jam off the heat and carefully fill the jars with jam, keeping the lip if the jar clean, and seal swiftly (this will all be quite hot). Set jars upside down to cool. Store jars cool and dark.

Use-it-up Stranger Things jam muffins

Accra is getting hotter, too hot too do much in the afternoons, even under the fan. Not sweat-dripping November levels yet, but tiring. We only run the A/C at night to sleep, as electricity is expensive, so the weekend afternoons are getting increasingly slow. There is only so much pre-move tidying and sorting one can do, also as we are not sure we are living three weeks from now. Time for a break: a friend is coming over this afternoon for a Stranger Things marathon, so I just baked jam muffins.

These are of the baking genre my husband politely describes as “healthy tasting”,  meaning they would be better with more sugar and butter. But they will do just fine as dessert, after a late lunch of an improvised stockfish and saffron carnaroli rice dish with bell peppers and chorizo. Maybe some of my precious frozen celery from Oxford? We are still doing our pantry challenge, and so far still eating very well.

Use-it-up Stranger Things jam muffins

3/4 cup wheat cake flour
1/2 cup wholemeal wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla sugar (or 1/4 tsp vanilla extract and 2 tsp sugar)
1/4 tsp salt

1 small banana, peeled and mashed
1 tbs peanut butter
1 tbs golden syrup
1/4 c milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 tbs chia seeds + 3 tbs water   (as I was low on eggs)

1/2 cup jam of your choice: a teaspoon per muffin

Heat the oven to 180C. Get your muffin tin ready with paper liners. Mix dry ingredients in one bowl. Mix wet ingredients in another bowl, except the jam. Stir it all together, do not overmix. Dollop a generous teaspoon in each muffin tin liner, then a teaspoon of jam, then more batter on top. Never mind if some jam is showing, it will be fine. Bake at 180C in middle of the oven for 25 minutes or so. These did not get very golden on top, but I used a cake tester to make sure they were baked through and springy. And we ate one straight from the cooling rack, just to be sure. I may dust these with icing sugar before serving, or heat them a bit and serve with salted butter. Mmmmmm……

Note: If using chia seeds as en egg replacement: they should be ground before soaking, but I just could not be bothered to clean the coffee grinder, so I soaked them whole, about five minutes. The muffins would probably have better structure if I had used ground chia meal.

Jams used: pear and coffee, and apple and Campari It is true, condiments and jams take ages to use up, so this was a great way to get hen into circulation. Chia seeds are easy to find in Accra, I go to Relish in Osu (Akai House) for seeds like sunflower, flax and chia. That makes bread baking and muesli making so much more interesting.


More interesting things: the wonderful local fabrics in Ghana. I will be stocking up on more  before we move, the colours are lovely and cheerful.

Time to get lunch going and the A/C on, since we have a guest coming over! Anyone else watching Stranger Things?

Cherry-apple jam for cheese, with chilli and black pepper

cherries 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)
400g sugar
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. two cherries 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.) cherry jam cooling 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.  testing cherry jam
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.
bread with cheddar and cheery jamI 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?