Like the rest of the foodblogging world, I guess, I have had rather a lot of jam sessions lately - mostly featuring members of the Berry family. Chuck couldn't make it, unfortunately, but Blue, Rasp and Goose (you sometimes do have to wonder how they come up with their pseudonyms these day, don't you) all staged brilliant performances in my kitchen. So within a matter of hopefully no more than weeks, you will be able to read more about combinations like gooseberry & black currant, blueberry & raspberry and, my personal favourite this year, raspberry & apple.
I only found out about the theme of this SHF by chance, when I met up with the hosts, Nicky and Oliver of delicious:days, in Salzburg two weeks ago and as I was expecting a delivery of apricots from the Wachau region that same week, I decided to contribute a recipe for apricot jam. Now, I've done a fair bit of travelling and lived abroad for most of my adult life and I have come to notice one thing about food (and especially fruit): it never quite tastes the same depending on where you eat it. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to grasp that fruit that travels far will have been picked long before it has actually reached the necessary degree of ripeness and, bananas aside, no fruit ripens off the plant. (No matter how Sainsbury's want to make you believe it.) It may get softer with time, but this is more a sign of beginning decay than a proof of the fruit reaching its hayday. If you've ever tasted a banana or a mango on your holidays somewhere in, say, Latin America, you will know exactly what I am talking about.
But in addition to choosing the right time for picking the fruit, variety and climate play a big part as well. I cannot understand those people who say that white asparagus tastes insipid - not in my part of the world it doesn't! But if you insist that you must have it preserved out of a glass, then it will, of course. Saying that, I've also had fresh white asparagus in France one time and found it to be inferior to the variety we get in Austria: if you ever happen to be there in its very short season (late May to late June), make sure you have some - simply cooked in salt water and drizzled with butter and parmesan... this will change your opinion of white asparagus forever.
I find apricots to be just as capricious. It's difficult enough to find a shop in the UK that sells them ripe, but even so, I have never, ever, managed to find some in this country that came even close to what they taste like in Central Europe. No matter whether they were imported from France, Israel, Chile or even locally grown... it must be the continental climate with harsh winters and dry and hot summers that makes apricots from Hungary and the Wachau (a wine growing region on board of the River Danube in Austria) superior to any other apricots I have ever tasted.
So when my Mum said she'd be getting 20kg of apricots from the Wachau region on the last day of my stay with them, I was jumping for joy... only to be bitterly disappointed when the day came and the farmer said he couldn't deliver because the fruits weren't ripe enough. I bought 2 kg of Hungarian apricots instead to ease the pain and made two varieties of jam: I prepared half of the apricots with lemongrass (a preserve I had made before and found to be delicious, if very subtle in its flavour), but that wasn't enough of an experiment for SHF. I settled on pistachios, roughly chopped, then roasted, a sort of North African (or Turkish?) twist to a breakfast staple. Shame that the addition of nuts limits its shelf life quite a bit - but no matter how much other people will insist that jam tastes best after standing around in your cupboard for 8 months, I disagree. Anything tastes better fresh, and jam is no exception. Of course, jamming is a necessity in countries where fruit is highly seasonal, but the fact that it does keep for months doesn't mean that its taste will improve. So I am not bothered about the fact that I will have to consume this particular jam within no more than 2 months. Especially not seeing that I am already down to my last glass after just two weeks... the combination of flavours with the smokiness of the nuts and the bursting fruit of the apricot makes it simply irresistible!
Jam's about my pride and truth I cannot hide
Too Keep you satisfied.
True love that now exist is the love I can't resist
So jam by my side.
To think that jammin was a thing of the past,
We're jamming, jammin
And I hope this jam is gonna last!
(lyrics: Bob Marley)
Apricot & roast pistachio jam
(makes 3 medium jars)
1 kg ripe apricots
1 stalk lemongrass
500 g jam sugar
50 g pistachios (shelled)
Wash and stone the apricots and cut into small pieces, ca. 1-2 cm cubes. Place in a thick-based pot, preferrably non-stick, and pour over the sugar. Don't stir. Bend the lemongrass several times or cit little incisions into the stalk, so to release some of the essential oils. Add to the pot.
Bring to a boil, stir thoroughly and reduce heat to a minimum, keeping the jam at a simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how thick you like your jam. (If you have altered the quantities, make sure you adjust the cooking time as well!)
Meanwhile, chop the pistachios and toast them in a non-stick frying pan (no oil!) until fragrant and browning. When you're happy with the jam's consistency, remove the lemongrass from the pot and stir in the pistachios.
Fill into sterilised jars (although prone to little accidents, this is best done when both the jam and the jars are still hot), close the lid on them immediately and very tightly, place on a work surface, lids down, and leave to cool.
Due to the addition of pistachios, this jam does not keep as long as regular jam - it is best preserved in the fridge and consumed within two months.